Stormy New Year expected over wide areas of Japan

Japan's Meteorological Agency is warning that heavy snowfall is forecast over wide areas during the New Year's holidays. They are calling on people to refrain from non-essential outings.

The severe weather is due to a strong, once-in-several-years cold air mass flowing into Japan.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said snow fell on Thursday morning in mountainous areas from the northern prefecture of Hokkaido to northern Kyushu in the southwest.

Some areas in the Chugoku region of western Japan received heavy snow. In Tottori and Okayama Prefecture over 30 centimeters of snow was recorded as of Thursday morning.

Weather officials warn that the cold air mass is expected to strengthen an atmospheric pressure pattern that will bring heavy snowfall.

They warn that through Thursday noon, snowfall will rapidly increase, especially on the Japan Sea side of the Chugoku and Kinki regions.

Weather officials say the snowfall may continue through Saturday on the Sea of Japan coasts of northern and eastern Japan.

The winter weather has also caused disruptions to transportation.

On the Yamagata Shinkansen line, services between Yamagata and Shinjo stations will be suspended from Thursday evening, and will be canceled all day on New Year's Day.

Japan Airlines has cancelled 77 flights, including those to and from Haneda and Osaka airports scheduled for Thursday.

All Nippon Airways has cancelled 28 flights for Thursday.

Operators are calling on travelers to check the latest information on their websites as there may be more cancellations.