Bitter cold, heavy snow forecast for Japan

A bitter cold snap is forecast to bring heavy snow and dangerously low temperatures to Japan in the coming few days.

The Meteorological Agency expects the strongest cold snap of the season to grip northern and western Japan, as a strong winter weather pattern emerges through Thursday.

Heavy snow and blizzards are expected in coastal areas along the Sea of Japan in the country's north and west, with the possibility of rapid snow accumulation.

There is also a chance of heavy snow in low-lying Pacific coastal areas. Officials say even the streets in and around central Tokyo may be blanketed on Tuesday night.

In the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, up to 90 centimeters of snow is expected in Niigata Prefecture; 80 centimeters in Hokuriku; and 70 centimeters in the Kanto-koshin, Kansai and Chugoku regions.

And up to 60 centimeters of snow is forecast for Tohoku and Tokai; 40 centimeters for Hokkaido and northern Kyushu; 30 centimeters for Shikoku; and 20 centimeters for southern Kyushu.

Temperatures nationwide are forecast to plunge to levels seen only once in a decade. On Wednesday, a low of minus 12 degrees Celsius is forecast for the city of Sapporo; minus six for the cities of Sendai and Kumamoto; minus four for the city of Kochi; and minus two for central Tokyo.

Officials are urging people to stay on the alert for icy road conditions, wind gusts and high waves. They also warn that frozen pipes and power outages are possible.

Authorities say traffic jams could happen in areas forecast to have heavy snow, and they urge residents to refrain from using their vehicles unless it is urgent.