Snowstorm pounds Sea of Japan coast

A powerful snowstorm is intensifying mainly in mountainous areas along the Sea of Japan coast on New Year's Day.

The Meteorological Agency says heavy snow is falling along Niigata Prefecture, the Hokuriku region, and the Sea of Japan side of the Tohoku region.

The storm is the result of an extremely strong mass of cold air combined with a powerful winter pressure system.

As of noon on Friday, some areas had recorded more than 30 centimeters of snow over the previous 12 hours.

Accumulated snowfall reached 216 centimeters in Okura Village in Yamagata Prefecture, and 157 centimeters in Uonuma City in Niigata Prefecture.

Yokote City in Akita Prefecture recorded a total of 152 centimeters.

The snow is expected to continue through Sunday and to affect low-lying areas as well.

Weather officials forecast 24-hour snowfall by Saturday morning to reach 80 centimeters in Niigata Prefecture, 70 centimeters along the Sea of Japan coast of the Tohoku region, up to 60 centimeters in Gifu Prefecture, Hokuriku and northern Kansai, 50 centimeters in Hokkaido, 40 centimeters in the northern Kanto region and 30 centimeters in Nagano Prefecture.

The Meteorological Agency is advising people to watch out for snow sliding off roofs and trees as well as avalanches, and possible disruptions of public transport.

Eighty-eight domestic flights have been canceled so far on Friday. Airlines are advising passengers to check their websites for the latest information.