At the peak of its power on September 27, Mindulle was classified as the third super typhoon to form in the Western Pacific this year, with winds gusting up to 195 kilometers per hour (120 mph).
The powerful storm, which had originated close to the Pacific island of Guam, made its way north and, by the last week of September, was threatening to strike the metropolis of Tokyo and the chain of small offshore islands.
Meteorologists warned of violent winds, torrential rain and waves higher than 10 meters (33 feet).
Residents of the outlying Izu Islands were advised to shelter at home and avoid low-lying areas. They were also told to prepare for extensive flooding, damage caused by high winds, waves or landslides.
The typhoon veered slightly to the east and only grazed Tokyo. The local weather station on the Izu Islands reported nearly 41 centimeters (16 inches) of rain in the space of 48 hours.
Although residents escaped unscathed, experts warn that the damage could have been far more significant, adding that, as a result of climate change, it is only a matter of time before a super typhoon scores a direct hit on mainland Japan.
“Japan suffers damage as a result of typhoons every year, and the most recent research indicates that disaster caused by super typhoons will be more severe in the future as a result of global warming,” said Kazuhisa Tsuboki, a meteorology professor at Nagoya University and vice director of the Typhoon Science and Technology Research Center.
“Japan is situated very close to the region of the Western Pacific, where these typhoons originate because these are the warmest ocean surface temperatures in the world, and they will get bigger in the future,” he said.
Urgent research required
The Typhoon Science and Technology Research Center was officially opened on October 1 at Yokohama National University, southwest of Tokyo. The center brings together analysts and experts from the government, academia and the private sector with the aim of researching storms and devising defenses against them.
Typically, Japan experiences a series of typhoons between April and late September. At present, super typhoons do not usually travel beyond the 28 North parallel, meaning that no major typhoon has been recorded hitting mainland Japan.
In 30 years, however, climate models anticipate that water temperatures in the Western Pacific could rise by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 F), making it possible for a super typhoon to menace Japan.
A storm system that struck Tokyo in 1934 claimed more than 3,000 lives and left at least 200,000 people homeless.
A 2018 study concluded that a super typhoon accompanied by a powerful storm surge in Tokyo Bay could overwhelm the city’s extensive flood defenses and cause 8,000 deaths and damage estimated at 115 trillion yen (€878 billion/$1 trillion).
What is the ‘Typoonshot’ project?
Hironori Fudeyasu, a professor of meteorology at the university and head of the new center, told DW that its “Typoonshot” project — a play on “moonshot” — has two main components.
“At first, we have to study typhoons to get a better understanding of them, but the longer-term dream is to develop ways to reduce their intensity and the amount of damage they can cause and, at the same time, look for ways to collect the vast amounts of energy that they produce and then use that energy,” he said.
“What we are aiming to create is simple: By 2050, we want typhoons to no longer be a threat, but a blessing,” he said.
The scientists are exploring a number of ways to reduce the power of typhoons. One particular approach under consideration is the injection of a large amount of ice or other cooling elements into the eye of the storm, thereby reducing the pressure and the intensity.
The agency is expected to soon deploy research aircraft to gather data on typhoons and, ultimately, commence “real world” experiments on storms.
Can typhoons help Japan achieve zero carbon emissions?
Scientists at the research center acknowledge that harnessing the energy of a super typhoon is “extremely challenging,” but insist that it can be achieved.
Another proposal under consideration is the deployment of a fleet of remote-controlled ships into a storm to gather and store energy from wind and undersea turbines. One estimate has suggested that the energy produced by a major typhoon could meet global demand for energy for one month.
“Typhoonshot is a really exciting research idea on many levels,” Tsuboki said.
“Japan has very limited energy resources, and there is growing concern about global warming, so obtaining energy from a typhoon would also help Japan to reach its target of zero carbon emissions by 2050. It is something that we have to explore,” he added.