Typhoon 16W (Bolaven), frequently asked questions
Published: August 24, 2012
Some infobytes that will help you understand some of the do’s and don’ts regarding Pacific-area tropical cyclones:
Q) Dave, when the eye of a typhoon passes over the island, is it OK to venture outside even for a few minutes, to take a break from being cooped up indoors?
A) NO! Absolutely not! While it may seem peaceful and tranquil, danger lurks all around it, in the form of THE highest winds that a tropical cyclone can be packing at that moment.
Let's say the typhoon is moving west over Okinawa at 7 mph and the eye of the typhoon is 4 miles wide. That's about a 35-minute break from the wind, but you might not know that. It may appear as if the storm is over, but all of a sudden, the winds pick up fiercely in the opposite direction as before, and sometimes even more intense than before.
Bottom line: STAY INDOORS. Wait until the all-clear or return to seasonal TCCOR-4 is issued.
Q) What about windows and doors, especially the big sliding ones that aren’t wire-reinforced? Do we tape those or board them up in advance of the storm?
A) Structures both on and off base are designed to withstand tropical cyclone winds, even as strong as the ones forecast. Glass windows, reinforced or otherwise, have a film placed over them designed to help the window withstand gusts. If you tape the window, you might damage it.
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) 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 year 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.