The Legend of the 'Kamikaze Typhoons'

From the Geological Society of America:

Boulder, Colo., USA – In the late 13th century, Kublai Khan, ruler of the Mongol Empire, launched one of the world’s largest armada of its time in an attempt to conquer Japan. Early narratives describe the decimation and dispersal of these fleets by the “Kamikaze” of CE 1274 and CE 1281 — a pair of intense typhoons divinely sent to protect Japan from invasion.

These historical accounts are prone to exaggeration, and significant questions remain regarding the occurrence and true intensity of these legendary typhoons. For independent insight, we provide a new 2,000 year sedimentary reconstruction of typhoon overwash from a coastal lake near the location of the Mongol invasions. Two prominent storm deposits date to the timing of the Kamikaze typhoons and support them being of significant intensity.


Our new storm reconstruction also indicates that events of this nature were more frequent in the region during the timing of the Mongol invasions. Results support the paired Kamikaze typhoons in having played an important role in preventing the early conquest of Japan by Mongol fleets. In doing so, the events may provide one of the earliest historical cases for the shaping of a major geopolitical boundary by an increased probability of extreme weather due to changing atmospheric and oceanic conditions.

The paper:

Depositional evidence for the Kamikaze typhoons and links to changes in typhoon climatology

J.D. Woodruff et al., Dept. of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA. Published online ahead of print on 4 Dec. 2014;

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Mike Bromley the Kurd
December 10, 2014 6:26 am

“The Kamikaze typhoons may therefore serve as a prominent example for how past increases in severe weather associated with changing climate have had significant geopolitical impacts.”
Why. Why. why. An interesting article plunged into the rent-seeking swamp of “severe weather caused by climate change”… a time when there was no accusatory CO₂ to blame. Oh what a ridiculous concluding sentence.

Robert W Turner
Reply to  Mike Bromley the Kurd
December 10, 2014 8:46 am

I don’t see where their conclusions are wrong. Climate has and probably will affect geopolitical boundaries. This is yet more data showing that Holocene climate was not completely stable (the Hockey Stick reconstruction) until the industrial revolution, it’s dynamic, and it has changed naturally. If they were to conclude that the uptick in typhoon frequency during this time were due to Mongolian BBQ then you’d be justified in your beef, but all they did was collect the geological data and concluded that it matches with historical/anecdotal evidence of weather playing a part in geopolitics. But I don’t know about “one of the earliest historical cases” as climate change is suggested to have played a major roll in ancient Egypt, India, and Central America (just to name a few off the top of my head) well before this happened.

Reply to  Robert W Turner
December 10, 2014 2:35 pm

1120, the White Ship sinks, and Henry I of England & Normandy [a son of William, the Great, the Conqueror, the Bastard] loses his heir, William. It was stormy.
The succession issue thrust England into a battle for the succession, won by Stephen – but he was succeeded by the son of his opponent, Empress Matilda.
I am sure there are other early examples of weather – if not climate – playing a part in significant events.

Reply to  Mike Bromley the Kurd
December 10, 2014 9:16 am

Cold hard cash , like many the authors have seen how making such a link , no matter how badly, can help in gaining the next grant .

Reply to  knr
December 10, 2014 10:21 am

Nail squarely on the head.

Reply to  Mike Bromley the Kurd
December 10, 2014 12:09 pm

Apparently, the authors of this paper are saying that extreme weather and changes to the climate are natural events that have happened in the past without help from CO2. That’s good to know.

Chip Javert
Reply to  Mike Bromley the Kurd
December 10, 2014 4:15 pm

Absolutely fascinating.
We can reconstruct typhoons from 850 years ago, but we can’t find Lois Learner’s emails.
I really have trouble with “…the events may provide one of the earliest historical cases for the shaping of a major geopolitical boundary by an increased probability of extreme weather due to changing atmospheric and oceanic conditions…”. How did we forget about events like European ice sheet induced conflict between homo sapiens and neanderthals, or the breech of the Mediterranean forming the Black sea, or lowered ice-age sea level allowing asian humanoids to walk across the Bearing Sea to Alaska?
SWAG: These are not exceptional events (requiring human intervention); this has been going on for a lot longer than 850 years, and will go on far into the future. This is the way our planet works. We’re just now noticing it and silly enough to claim credit for it.

December 10, 2014 6:30 am

Well, the Mongols had it coming.
Because they drove SUVs, operated carbon spewing coal and oil power plants and other carbon spewing industrial facilities, and otherwise engaged in carbon emitting activities, they caused these nasty typhoons.
Just more rock solid, indisputable, incontrovertible proof of the AGW hypothesis – OK, I meant the AGW proven theory, and further support of the 98% of climate scientists that support the AGW proven , beyond all shadow of a doubt, fact.

Reply to  JohnTyler
December 10, 2014 11:07 am

Don’t forget that the Mongols ate mostly meat too.

Reply to  ATheoK
December 11, 2014 9:52 am


Mike Macray
Reply to  ATheoK
December 13, 2014 9:03 am

ATheoK “Don’t forget that the Mongols ate mostly meat too.”
..and they drank a lot of Mare’s milk too.. oh! and they also drank fermented mare’s milk which doesn’t sound too tasty.

Reply to  JohnTyler
December 10, 2014 3:20 pm

The ships they were sailing to Japan each had twin diesel engines.

Chip Javert
Reply to  JohnTyler
December 10, 2014 4:17 pm

97% of Mongols refused to get carbon offsets – very few trees in Mongolia.

December 10, 2014 6:33 am

Oddly (“The complete reconstruction indicates periods of greater flood activity relative to modern beginning ca. 250 CE and extending past the timing of the Kamikaze events to 1600 CE.”) this matches approximately the period of time the Anasazi culture rose and fell. Hummmmmmm…

December 10, 2014 6:34 am

But Mann claims that medieval warmth ended in AD 1250 (due to the volcanic eruptions for which he blames the Little Ice Age), so the kamikaze “extreme weather” events occurred during a cooling climate, in his alternate universe.

Keith Willshaw
Reply to  milodonharlani
December 10, 2014 8:21 am

For a change Mann may actually be right this time. We know from records of the time that it WAS markedly colder at the time with a shorter growing season and crop failures. If the northern hemisphere is cooling rapidly compared to the equatorial latitudes there will a greater temperature differential to drive big storms.
The records do show some real monster storms in this period. The great storm of 1287 completely remodelled the cost of SE England leaving some ports such as New Romney starnded 3 miles in land while others like Dunwich and Winchelsea were destroyed. The site of Old Winchelsea is now under the English Channel. In Holland it was even worse as the St Lucias Day flood breached the sea defences and the resulting flood killed between 50,000 and 80,000 people creating the ZuiderZee.
Note that in 1998 Mann was proposing the idea that the 15th to 19th centuries were the coldest of the millennium over the Northern Hemisphere overall. Then he drank the KoolAid and the BAD period of global cooling became the new optimum climate we should aspire to recreate.

Reply to  Keith Willshaw
December 10, 2014 10:18 am

Could not agree more that storms are generated by temperature differences, so a cooler planet is stormier than a warmer one. However the Medieval Warm Period didn’t end in AD 1250. There were however cooler cycles within it, naturally. But VEI 6 & 7 volcanic eruptions only affect weather, not climate.
In the reconstructed CET the 50 years 1250-1300 were on average as warm or warmer than the previous 100 years & warmer than 1950-2000.

Bill Parsons
Reply to  milodonharlani
December 10, 2014 11:21 am

Appreciate it if you could provide a link.

Keith Willshaw
Reply to  Bill Parsons
December 10, 2014 3:16 pm

Googling will provide a plethora

Brian H
Reply to  milodonharlani
December 10, 2014 7:39 pm

Yep, climate disasters happen under cooling. Warming, not so much. AGW is a GOOD thing! CAGW is a fantasy.

December 10, 2014 6:36 am

Once the climate created Kamikaze typhoons which had geopolitical impacts. Climate scientists are Kamikaze buffoons. Close, but not quite the same thing, though Kamikaze buffoons do indeed have geopolitical impacts.

M Courtney
December 10, 2014 6:46 am

Weather not climate. But certainly weather with a geopolitical impact.
Armadas of sailing ships do not react well to typhoons.
although I haven’t modelled that. I need funding for Airfix and hairdryers.

Reply to  M Courtney
December 10, 2014 7:01 am

Even steam-powered armadas, like ADM Halsey’s don’t do well in typhoons. And he could have avoided them by heeding the warnings of Reid Bryson, Father of Climatology & prominent CACA skeptic.

Reply to  milodonharlani
December 10, 2014 9:53 am

Even relatively modern vessels can have problems in a typhoon. My brother was crew on a Knox class destroyer escort in the Pacific in the early ’70s. The captain was supposedly censured for getting the ship slightly damaged by attempting to run through the fringes of a typhoon to meet some sort of deadline. One of the early builds of the class was also damaged off the east coast in a “nor’easter.” The type was large and slow, single screwed, and nicknamed “McNamara’s folly” by many.

Reply to  milodonharlani
December 10, 2014 10:10 am

Knox Class frigates were truly execrable.

December 10, 2014 7:22 am

The Extreme Cold that stifled the Nazis at Stalingrad. Global warming in our time.
Now history get rewritten all over yet again! Historians on the AGW Gravy Train.
Ain’t Over till its Over. Y. Bera

December 10, 2014 7:37 am

I couldn’t let this post go by without commenting.

Silver ralph
Reply to  Genghis
December 10, 2014 7:59 am

Oh, come on Genghis, you were never so reticent as your former sefl. Don’t be shy, what did you want to invade – sorry – say.

Jeff in Calgary
Reply to  Genghis
December 10, 2014 9:44 am

Kublai Khan was Ganghis’s grand son. While your joke is somewhat funny, you missed your mark by a couple of generations.

Don K
December 10, 2014 7:40 am

FWIW, sometime in the past few years I recall reading or maybe seeing on TV a presentation that suggested that the Mongol fleets — although very large — were composed mostly of keelless river boats and hastily constructed barges built by Chinese laborers who had no great affection for their Mongol rulers and didn’t do their best work on the boats. As a result, once the Japanese somehow held off the Mongols on the beaches, the Mongol army still on their poorly suited craft were sitting ducks for even a moderate tropical cyclone.
Could be true,
In a typical year, Japan is hit by several typhoons.

Jeff in Calgary
Reply to  Don K
December 10, 2014 9:52 am

The Chinese engeneers did a exelent job builging siege wepons for the Khagan’s. I think that by the time of Kublai, the Chinese were fully assimilated into the Mongole Empire. The issue may well have been that Mongoles had never been sea fairing, and had no idea what they were doing. On land, they were esentialy unstopable. If they had managed to land even a small % of thier army, they could have crushed the Nipponese army. Ther is no “holding off the Mongoles on the beaches”. Just some Discovery channel guy’s pet theory.

Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
December 10, 2014 10:09 am

Supposedly individual samurai challenged Mongols to single combat, not having grasped fully the concept of a horde.

Mike the Morlock
Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
December 10, 2014 1:15 pm

Hello Jeff in Calgary, Wrong. the mongols were a cavalry army, they needed space to deploy and maneuver.
The Japanese armies of the time were infantry, armed with a wicked multi use “spear’. It was part axe part sword and spear . Nasty. Also missile troops archers-good range. All wearing good armour. And of course the Samurai.
Now picture a horse army caught on the “Beach” in surf, sea sick , trying to deploy, their bow strings damp or wet wearing little armour and this type of Japanese army advancing to the surf to meet them. No room to maneuver, jammed together.
Samurai picture one of them armoured as a greek Hoplite climbing into one of the ships. Think of the mask art work designs of the samurai’s helmut, it would be as if a demon had climbed aboard with them truely. It would have been like Marathon only worse.
Because a type of army is good on one type of battlefeld should not mean it is good on all. The Mongols suffered many defeats, but sadly not enough.

Reply to  Don K
December 10, 2014 10:38 am

It wasn’t the Chinese who were building the boats, it was the more recently conquered Koreans.

December 10, 2014 7:41 am

‘The Wrath of Khan’? Or, ‘The Wreck of the Cons’??

DD More
December 10, 2014 7:42 am

Would the rising sea levels have made the storm surge higher or lower in this historical study?

Reply to  DD More
December 10, 2014 3:01 pm

Yes, ships are badly affected by higher sea levels, makes them ride lower in the water.

Brian H
Reply to  old44
December 10, 2014 7:56 pm

Nah, a rising tide lifts all ships — and makes them more tippy.

December 10, 2014 7:43 am

Gives a new twist to pay it forward! Use credits for damages in one time period in the future…see, the Chinese and Mongols can take credit for already having been impacted negatively by those darn Europeans…build those coal plants with impunity, you’ve already paid your dues…

December 10, 2014 7:58 am

So we can now document with forensic evidence the fact that bad weather events have happened throughoiut history. >roill eyes<

Silver ralph
December 10, 2014 8:01 am

Rather than ‘Kamikaze Typhoons’, I think this event is normally known in Japanese history as the ‘Divine Wind’.

Reply to  Silver ralph
December 10, 2014 8:16 am

Didn’t the Kamikaze Typhoons win the Japanese Football league last season…just pipped the Kyoto Protocols to the title?

Reply to  Silver ralph
December 10, 2014 8:28 am

So… the Kamikaze?

Reply to  Silver ralph
December 10, 2014 10:06 am

Kamikaze means divine wind.

Reply to  Silver ralph
December 15, 2014 8:56 am

Kamikaze means “Divine Wind” (kami + kaze)

December 10, 2014 8:20 am

I was always puzzled where Fukushima got it’s name from. Now I know they picked it up from the Mongols

Reply to  EternalOptimist
December 10, 2014 11:26 am

LOL hit the funny bone and it is only Wednesday, thanks

December 10, 2014 8:31 am

“Our new storm reconstruction also indicates that events of this nature were more frequent in the region during the timing of the Mongol invasions”.
Proof: Mongol invasions cause extreme weather.
…which is about the same causal relationship between man-made co2 and global warming.

Jeff in Calgary
Reply to  Mark and two Cats
December 10, 2014 10:19 am

There is a theory that the mass killing (or depopulation) resulting from the Mongol invastion throught the world resulted in reforestation, and a significant impact on the climate.

Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
December 10, 2014 2:58 pm

Jeff –

December 10, 2014 8:47 am

Slightly OT here, but it should be noted that the English word “kamikaze”, which primarily means “suicide mission”, is derived from the Japanese words 神 kami “god, divine” + 風 kaze “wind”, the name given to the storms which repelled Kublai Khan’s invasion attacks in 1274 and 1281 CE.
Strictly speaking, 神風 had no connotation of “suicide”. A different term ‘tokkoutai’ (special attack force) was used to denote the WWII suicide bombers. (But some of these flyers did wear headbands inscribed with 神風, in recognition of the original divine intervention)
However, since WWII the Japanese language has ‘re-borrowed’ the Western, suicidal, notion of ‘kamikaze’ to describe crazy drivers and such from the English usage.
On the planet Ficton (aka Crapton, that imaginary planet in Earth’s orbit on the other side of the Sun) the term ‘kamikaze’ is the official meteorological term to denote any wind generated by man-made CO2.

Joel O'Bryan
December 10, 2014 10:28 am

A statement in the authors’ abstract, but missing in the above press release:

…. and driven by greater El Niño activity relative to modern.

Curious. The word “driven” implies a mechanistic causation. Correlation or causation???

Mike McMillan
December 10, 2014 10:29 am

Google Earth coordinates of the coastal lake in images B and C
32°14’50″N 129°59’10″E

December 10, 2014 10:34 am

I saw a report a few years ago that they have managed to recover pieces of some of the ships used by Kublai Khan in his invasion.
They were poorly built. In his rush to invade Japan he apparently forced his enslaved ship builders to rush their work, so many corners were cut. (Of course enslaved workers rarely put their heart into what they are building in the first place.)

Crispin in Waterloo
December 10, 2014 12:26 pm

A surprise for history buffs is that the Mongols were invading a land to try to take it from those who had invaded and taken it from the aboriginal inhabitants. Mongols and ‘Japanese’ (who invaded from Korea) are surprisingly close ethnically. Someone who can speak Japanese can learn to speak Mongolian in about 4 months. Koreans, three months. They are difficult languages for Europeans to learn as the sentence structure is very different.
It was not their destiny to invade Japan, thus their fate was sealed. (They are all big on destiny and fate.)

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo
December 11, 2014 3:28 pm

The Yamato people (or better said that Yayoi) came much earlier (~300 BC) and assimilated the prior culture, the Jômon people (~13,000 – 300BC). The Japanese did not invade from Korea. Korean and Mongolic are so called Altaic languages, that is correct. But whether Japanese is one, that is still subject of heated debate.
The Yayoi’s origin is also still under debate, but DNA testing does suggest that they may have originated from south of the Yangtze in China.

December 10, 2014 12:29 pm

“They were poorly built. In his rush to invade Japan he apparently forced his enslaved ship builders to rush their work, so many corners were cut.”
Sounds more like someone rushing to conjecture. He was a strong and often cruel ruler, but, unlike his barbarian grandfather Ghengis, Kublai Khan was known for his skilled and clement administration of China, and willingness to adapt to the various cultures he conquered (while remaining true to his Mongol heritage).
He didn’t conquer and unify China by cutting corners. In fact after the first failed invasion of Japan with 900 ships in 1274, he carefully regrouped, quintupling the forces to 4400 ships in 1281, sending in two fleets, one from China and another from Korea.
On both invasions his forces were decimated (ships and men) by storms at the same staging point, Hakata Bay, Kyushu Island. So it’s not surprising that the Japanese would later view these storms as divine miracles.

George Steiner
December 10, 2014 2:30 pm

My suspicion is that however skilled Kublai was he and his generals did not consider the practical logistic problem of sea invasion. Landing infantry and probably horses on a beach is a very difficult task. He had no air force to soften up the defenders.
The more ships he built the more he compounded the problem. I suspect that even without the devine wind he would have been in trouble and would probably have lost. Imagine trying to land at about the same time hundreds of thousand of man even on a very large beach.
In addition Japan is a mountainous country, lots of horses are not much good. Food is an other thing. A large army needs lots of food. Even though the Mongols could live on raw meet, the would have needed lots of raw meet.

December 11, 2014 3:20 pm

It’s historically complete nonsense.
The first Mongol intrusion was successful as in they landed at several positions, at which heavy fighting on land took place between the Mongol landing forces and samurai bands. Explosive bombs, poisoned arrows and mass archery were used to secure the beachhead. The invasion ended with the Mongol forces eventually disengaging and returning home.
There was no wind in 1274.
The second invasion was met with prepared positions by the Japanese. The Mongols rushed the attack and landed, but failed to secure a beachhead. They had to retreat to the Noko and Shiga islands. The Japanese then employed the so called “little ship” raids, which were highly successful, partly because the Japanese have a long history of being outstanding coastal sailors. Samurai bands also raided the Mongol encampments on Shiga island via the sandbank to the mainland.
The Mongol fleets eventually combined near Takashima island, and attempted to land there, but their vanguard and raids were driven back time and again. This forced the Mongols to drop anchor out in the bay. The battle of Takashima then began in earnest, with the Japanese once again resorting to their highly effective “little ship” raids against the much larger Mongol ships, building on their maneuverability, speed and knowledge of local waters.
The “divine wind” doesn’t really come into the pictures until the battle of Takashima. What Mongol ships survived the Japanese raids and the wind then fled back home.
As for the argument against cavalry use that has appeared here, Japan’s warlords used cavalry themselves. A few centuries later the Takeda cavalry became famous and feared (until period firearms put an end to them at Nagashino.) Not to mention that the Mongols of those times were no longer the nomadic conquerors who lived in their saddles. They brought plenty of infantry.

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