July 8 (Bloomberg) -- Typhoon Neoguri weakened as it moved north into the East China Sea, skirting Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture, grounding flights and forcing some residents to flee for emergency shelters.
Neoguri’s top winds dropped to 195 kilometers (121 miles) per hour, down from 204 kph earlier, the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center said in an advisory at 11 a.m. New York time. The storm was about 700 kilometers southwest of Sasebo, Japan, on track to Kyushu Island.
“I expect steady weakening, with Neoguri making landfall as a strong tropical storm or as a Category 1 typhoon” by 8 p.m. tomorrow, New York time, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Heavy rains causing major flooding will be the main concern, due to saturated soils on Kyushu caused by very heavy rains since Thursday from a stalled front.”
In the Okinawan city of Miyako, 55,000 residents were urged to take shelter in community centers and municipal buildings, though only about 30 had complied, disaster prevention spokesman Takezazu Genka said.
Japan Airlines Co. and its affiliates canceled 168 flights to and from Okinawa, affecting about 14,000 passengers, the company said. The All Nippon Airways Co. group scrubbed 110 flights, affecting another 14,000 passengers.
Nansei Sekiyu KK, a unit of Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA, halted refining and shipping operations yesterday at its 100,000 barrel-a-day Nishihara plant in Okinawa, the company said in an e-mailed statement. Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Toshiba Corp., which have factories on Kyushu, said they were monitoring the storm.
NTT Docomo Inc., Japan’s largest wireless carrier, suffered service blackouts in several parts of Okinawa, the company said on its website.
“The strength of the typhoon is a once-in-several-decades event,” Akihiro Ohta, Japan’s transport minister, told reporters in Tokyo. “We urge people to pay attention to warnings from their local governments.”
Neoguri, which means “raccoon” in Korean, is currently the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. As it moves over the cooler waters of the East China Sea, it will weaken further.
The typhoon will “take long enough over cooler waters to weaken significantly” before reaching Japan early in July 10, David Streit, a meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, said today by e-mail.
“Wind damage should be minor and confined to the southern quarter of the country,” he said. “Localized flooding is possible, but even that looks to be isolated since it will be collapsing so rapidly as it crosses the country.”
Japan has averaged more than 11 typhoons per year over a 30-year period ending in 2010, most of them occurring between July and October, according to the weather agency’s website.
Neoguri was downgraded from a super typhoon by the U.S. Navy Observatory’s typhoon warning center in Pearl Harbor after sustained winds dropped from 204 kilometers per hour.
The storm is forecast to strike Kyushu somewhere between Nagasaki and Kagoshima, said Jim Andrews, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
“Kyushu is the odds-on favorite to have the worst of the storm,” Andrews said yesterday by telephone. “Whenever you get a tropical cyclone making landfall in Japan you are going to get 10 to 15 inches of rain somewhere, so you get mudslides of course, as well as some flooding.”
Japan has issued storm and high-wave warnings for Okinawa, which has a population of about 1.3 million people, and portions of Kyushu.
There are two idled nuclear plants on Kyushu. Because the plants aren’t running, the typhoon is unlikely to cause a release, said Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. An earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered a meltdown and radioactive release at Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in the northeast of the country.
Kyushu Electric Power Co., which operates the island’s nuclear plants, was monitoring the storm’s approach and would increase safety inspections if it appeared to pose a danger, spokeswoman Naoko Iguchi said.
Neoguri was moving north at 30 kilometers per hour, according to Japan’s weather agency. The U.S. Navy predicts the storm may come ashore in Kyushu as a Category 2 storm.
Jeff Schlueter, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel stationed in Okinawa, said the storm had halted most work at his base.
“It’s windy and rainy, but I’ve been through worse,” he said by phone from Kadena Air Base. “I’m from the Midwest, we get tornadoes.”
--With assistance from Yuki Hagiwara, Takashi Amano, Kiyotaka Matsuda, Chris Cooper and Cheng Leng in Tokyo, Mark Chediak in San Francisco, Steven McPherson in Seattle and Isis Almeida in London.