Typhoon season primer for those new to the Pacific
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 9, 2018
Always, there is an acronym for something in military life. It’s just the nature of the beast. But perhaps the most important, especially on Okinawa or Guam in the run-up to the upcoming northwest Pacific typhoon season, is TCCOR, which stands for Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness.
Long-timers and greybeards such as I are used to such things. But to introduce those who are new, and to reinforce what old Asia hands already know, here’s a primer on what those TCCORs mean, and what to do once each of them is declared, in order, as a typhoon nears your location.
This blog post is designed to get you ready for the upcoming typhoon season, what to do, where to go and how to prepare when one of those nasty things starts bearing down on you.
The most important things are preparation and communication.
• It is never too early to get supplied up for tropical cyclones. One never knows, after the season actually begins, when one might strike. They could form at any moment, and right overhead. Keep on hand non-perishables, drinking water, batteries, flashlights and portable radios and supplies for your young’uns and furry friends (more on that later).
• Communication is just as vital. Social media seems to be the place where folks gravitate to on a moment’s notice. That can be a good thing – command information is usually posted on official sites and Web pages up to the minute … and a bad thing – rumors can spark wave after wave of misinformation and create a “boy who cried wolf” scenario when not wanted. Stick with official information at any and all times. Commanders’ access channels and AFN are vital sources for that.
FYI, Okinawa enters seasonal TCCOR 4 starting June 1 and exits it Nov. 30 each year, while Guam remains in seasonal TCCOR 4 year-round, because each location sits in the area where tropical cyclones are apt to form. One example was Choi-Wan, in September 2003, which formed right over Okinawa, which went from TCCOR 4 to TCCOR 1 almost instantly, and caused a run on the Foster Legion Gate Shoppette.
Once storms form and begin their track toward land masses such as Okinawa, the 18th Wing Weather Flight keeps close watch on them, recommending accelerated TCCORs when they feel appropriate to the 18th Wing commanding officer, currently Brig. Gen. Case A. Cunningham, who speaks in one voice for the island when accelerated TCCORs are issued.
The only exception is when TCCOR All-Clear is declared or the island reverts back to seasonal TCCOR 4. All-Clear is also subject to conditions on each base; some might delay reverting to All-Clear if there are still power lines or tree limbs damaged that haven’t been hauled away.
It’s very important to note that there is NO SET TIME for the beginning or ending of one TCCOR and the start of another. No hard-and-fast, neatly wrapped start-and-stop scenarios. It's all based on wind speeds, particularly damaging winds of 58 mph or greater, which can vary the way any weather anomalies do.
TCCOR upgrades and downgrades are entirely at the discretion of the 18th Wing commanding officer, while downline camp commanders can provide inputs based on local conditions on station.
And it’s not just wind that wreaks havoc on bases during a tropical cyclone’s peak. Even if the winds aren’t very strong, rain associated with tropical cyclones can cause even more damage. Flooding, uprooting trees and power lines, inundating low-lying areas, buildings and even submerging automobiles – tropical cyclones are capable of dumping as many as 50 inches of rain in a 12-hour period in some locales.
Other areas of the Pacific don’t endure storms as strong as the ones on Guam and Okinawa, but they can still be destructive; ask those as far north as Misawa Air Base, which entered TCCOR 1-E (emergency) in summer 2016 for the first time in the base’s long history. Twice! Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, took a pounding from the remnants of tropical cyclones, causing massive damage to the island’s vital potato crop.
So, what do those TCCORs mean?
TCCOR 5 – Destructive winds of 58 mph (50 nautical miles, or knots) or greater are possible within 96 hours. NOTE: This TCCOR is only used outside of established tropical cyclone season, when a rogue or maverick storm might form and threaten U.S. assets between Dec. 1 and May 31. Rare, but possible.
TCCOR 4 – Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are possible within 72 hours. Now’s the time to stock up on food and storm supplies. Check your closet and cupboards. What’s in them? Do you need bottled water, non-perishable foods, a portable radio, extra batteries, pet food for your furry friends, diapers for the little ones? Time to plan your storm shopping.
TCCOR 3 – Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are possible within 48 hours.
Begin a general cleanup around homes and office. Bring inside or tie down those bicycles to a concrete structure. Take down the trampoline and move it inside. Do the same with the hibachi or barbeque. Even plastic pails can become dangerous projectiles in a storm. Note: Do NOT tape windows; these days, windows of both on- and off-base structures are coated to protect from UV rays and are also designed to withstand sustained destructive winds for extended periods. Taping them might damage them. If you’ve not visited the PX or commissary, now’s the time to do so, to avoid the late rush.
TCCOR 2 – Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are anticipated within 24 hours.
Finish removing or securing all outside items. As a last-minute precaution, gas up the car and visit the bank or the ATM to stock up on enough cash and local currency to last as long as three days. The power to each could be out for that long or longer. Pregnant women in their third trimester should contact 18th Medical Group or the new U.S. Naval Hospital on Camp Foster about whether they should stay there for the duration of the storm. You may also notice that sales of alcohol will be cut off at the shoppette or Exchange at a certain point; that’s to ensure personnel are ready at a minute’s notice to help clean up storm damage or immediate emergencies, instead of being incapacitated by the “typhoon party.”
TCCOR 1 – Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are expected within 12 hours. No school for DODEA students. Staff and teachers will work normal hours, unless changed by the DODEA district superintendent. Fill any containers you can use for water storage. If you live in low-lying quarters, make arrangements to stay with a friend. Make final check of food and other supplies.
TCCOR 1 Caution (TCCOR 1-C) – Actual winds of 38 mph or greater are occurring at a particular base or bases. Time to get indoors and STAY there. All non-essential personnel are released to their quarters, DODEA schools will close, along with the Exchange, commissaries, shoppettes, gas stations, services facilities, clubs, restaurants, recreational facilities and the post office. Movement around the base should be kept to a minimum. Security forces and MPs will enforce an “essential vehicles only” policy.
TCCOR 1 Emergency (TCCOR 1-E) – Actual sustained winds of 58 mph or greater are occurring. STAY INSIDE. All outside activity is prohibited. This means YOU, whether on base or off, whether you see Japanese going about their appointed rounds in their vehicles despite the wicked weather. At 58 mph sustained, winds are such that it becomes difficult to stand up or walk outside, your car weaves back and forth and could be forced off the road if you attempt to drive, when even the most innocuous of objects can become dangerous projectiles. If off base, do not go visiting areas such as Bolo Point or Maeda Point to see the breakers; a maverick wave could pull you into the drink. Do not attempt to go surfing in such conditions; lurking just below the water’s surface might be a coral deposit or a series of rocks, which are licking their chops and rubbing their hands together gazing at you and whispering to each other, “fresh meat!” If you’re lucky, you’ll get only severe lacerations to the chest or face. If not … U.S. Forces Japan Instruction 15-4001, regarding tropical cyclones, are written the way they are for a reason – to protect you and keep you and yours safe. The best advice is to stay indoors and ride it out.
TCCOR 1 Recovery (TCCOR 1-R) – Destructive winds of 58 mph are no longer occurring. Actual winds are 38 to 56 mph. REMAIN INSIDE. Non-essential functions remain closed unless directed by the commander. All but emergency essential personnel remain in their quarters. This is NOT the time to venture from your quarters; the danger has not passed. If anything, it’s worse than during the storm, for power lines and tree branches may be scattered everywhere. Water mains may be broken and flooding may be occurring. A gas line could be ruptured and cause a devastating explosion. Remain inside until the All Clear is issued. TCCOR 1-R can last for one hour; it can last for three days. It all depends on how much damage is present, how long it takes to clean up and get the camp back up to speed. Repeating: There is NO SET TIME for how long 1-R can last, no matter what you may hear from your friends or see online.
Storm Watch (TCCOR SW) – Winds are not exceeding/no longer forecast to exceed 50 knots (58 mph) sustained (the criteria for "destructive winds") but there still exists a probability of high winds due to the proximity of the storm. High winds may include gusts exceeding 58 mph and/or sustained winds meeting TCCOR 1-Caution criteria. The storm is also close enough to the area that a heightened alert status is necessary in order to rapidly establish elevated TCCOR conditions should the storm deviate from the forecast track. Personnel should follow Standard Operating Procedures for TCCOR Storm Watch and stay alert for any changes to TCCOR status.
All Clear (or reversion to TCCOR 4) – Hazardous conditions and winds are no longer present. Return to normal duties. All Clear is announced when all hazards have been cleared. DoDDS teachers, staff and students will return to school during normal hours.
Note – Wind speeds shown for each TCCOR serve as a guide for decision making. The final decision on TCCOR declaration rests with the 18th Wing commanding officer at Kadena Air Base based on wind speed, weather forecast, safety and operational and mission concerns.
Sources – USFJ 15-4001 and 18th Wing Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan 10-2.
Stay updated with the latest information on tropical storms, TCCORs and their movements by visiting the Joint Typhoon Warning Center’s public facing page, Kadena Air Base’s official Facebook page, Kadena’s official weather pages and AFN Okinawa’s official Facebook page.
Kadena’s official weather pages will undergo a transition soon. According to the 18th Wing Weather Flight, the current Shogunweather.com will remain up until June 1 – by coincidence the start of the tropical cyclone season – but will transition after that to Kadena’s new official weather page, connected directly to the base’s official Web page.
Kadena’s weather Web pages feature a vast amount of resources, including an updating TCCOR page, a typhoon forecast page and links included on each page to helpful guides to getting you through the teeth of storms.
There are other Facebook resources out there, including Pacific Typhoon Season, which monitors storms in all parts of the world's biggest body of water. It has a huge following, almost 37,500 members.
One resource that Okinawa service folk had thought to be gone after last December has returned and is doing its usual work for island residents from halfway around the world -- England.
Okinawa Typhoon Pics & Info provides immediate and/or almost-immediate weather updates with a light-hearted touch of humor. This despite the fact that Mr. and Mrs. OTPI and their faithful companion Sparky the Weather Dog live in England; Mr. OTPI retired from the military last December and moved to Merry Old, and plan to continue their contributions to the safety of island residents despite the distance. OTPI is followed by almost 32,500 people.
Here at Stripes.com, Pacific Storm Tracker takes the data published by official sources such as JTWC and the 18th Wing Weather Flight, intended mainly for U.S. military mariners and aviators, and condenses it into simplified facts aimed at the average reader: Wind speeds, precipitation, updated TCCORs and when.
Above everything else, get your safe on, especially when storms are on their way. Thanks for reading this far. *smile*