Heavy snow is falling in regions mainly along the Sea of Japan coast with record snowfall observed in Gifu and Shiga prefectures.

The Japan Meteorological Agency says the season's most powerful cold air mass combined with a winter-type pressure system has brought record snowfall to the Tokai and Kinki regions.

In the 6-hour period through 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 49 centimeters of snow had fallen in the town of Sekigahara in Gifu Prefecture and 40 centimeters in Maibara City, Shiga Prefecture. They represent the heaviest snowfall on record for those areas.

Weather officials say heavy snow is forecast through Thursday on the Sea of Japan coast in eastern and western Japan. They say significant snowfall could occur even on the flatlands of the Chugoku, Kinki and Tokai regions, which usually experience minimal snow.

In the 24 hours through Thursday evening, snowfall is expected to reach up to 70 centimeters in the Tokai and Tohoku regions, 60 centimeters in the Chugoku, Kinki, Hokuriku and Kanto-Koshin regions as well as Niigata Prefecture, and 50 centimeters in Hokkaido.

Weather officials are warning of large-scale traffic disruptions caused by snow accumulation and icy roads.

They are also warning of high waves and urging caution against avalanches, lightning strikes, strong gusts and tornados.