Typhoon 11W (Muifa), frequently asked questions
Published: August 3, 2011
Some frequenly asked questions, especially by folks new to the island, reviewed by officials at Kadena Air Base's 18th Wing Weather Flight:
Q. The TV, radio and other official agencies keep mentioning 50-knot winds or greater are forecast for such and such a time. Why is 50 knots the magic number?
A. Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 1-E is declared when damaging sustained 50-knot or 58-mph winds or greater are actually occurring. 50 knots is considered severe weather at any Air Force base, due to the frequency of structural and equipment damage when these winds occur, and damage assessments are usually required after such storms. From a less regulatory standpoint, with winds at that speed or higher, objects surrounding you that may seem benign and harmless can turn into dangerous projectiles. Branches get torn off trees and sent airborne, maybe against a car window or your backdoor. Trash cans, bicycles, flower pots, even small refrigerators can fit that category depending on the winds’ severity. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, to stand upright. Keeping a vehicle under control can be troublesome, if not out of the conversation altogether. That’s why the best advice when TCCOR 1-E is issued is to stay indoors.
Q. Should I tape windows or other outside-facing glass in my on-base quarters during a typhoon?
A. All on-base structures on Okinawa, especially newer ones, are virtually typhoon-proof, especially the windows. A staff civil on Kadena some years ago told me that on-base structures are designed to withstand sustained 198-mph winds for lengthy periods of time. Windows are treated and covered by a plastic film that can be easily damaged by tape.
Q. I’ve lived off base for a number of years, and during typhoons, I see the locals continuing to make their rounds in their vehicles, even when TCCOR 1-E is in effect. I mean, if they can go outside, why can’t we SOFA types?
A. Please see the above answer to 50 knot-58 mph winds being the magic number and how virtually anything can become a dangerous projectile during a typhoon. The 18th Wing commanding officer at Kadena Air Base issues TCCORs based on local conditions, and if the local conditions on base are considered dangerous, then the same should apply off base. Aside from it being spelled out in U.S. Forces Japan instructions and regulations, it’s simply common sense to stay out of danger, even if you’re an “old Okinawa hand” who’s lived on the economy for a number of years. The locals are used to it; they’ve lived here all their lives and have endured scores of such rodeos. Most SOFA types haven’t. Leave the danger to the locals.
Q. I PCSed to Okinawa a few weeks ago, and a handful of my co-workers told me about the high surf along the coasts during storms. I’m from California and I live to surf. Is it dangerous to do it during typhoons on Okinawa?
A. Very dangerous, because of a little thing called coral. The Ryukyu Islands are actually glorified coral reefs jutting out of the water for hundreds of miles southwest of Japan’s main islands. Coral differs sharply from conventional sand that you see and feel along the shores of the finest beaches in California, Florida, Hawaii and elsewhere. And coral has the consistency and texture of harshly coarse sandpaper, a much less forgiving surface than you’d find in those prime stateside locales. First time I went swimming on this island, at Manza Beach in 1983, my knees and elbows were scraped up big time. Then, there are coral growths that lurk below the water’s surface, which can cause untold harm should you wipe out while surfing or boogie boarding during a storm. Even sitting on shore at locales such as Zanpa or Maeda Misaki, a maverick wave can knock you off your purchase and pull you into the water.
Most of these answers have one thing in common: Stay indoors when TCCOR 1-E is declared. Better to be safe than sorry.