Typhoon season primer for those new to the Pacific
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 5, 2019
In less than a month, the northwest Pacific’s tropical cyclone season begins with the issuance of seasonal Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 4 for U.S. bases on Okinawa and seasonal TCCOR 5 at Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
On average, the northwest Pacific sees 32 numbered tropical cyclones per season, some as weak as a tropical depression and some equal to Category 5 hurricanes in the States.
There were seven super typhoons in the 2018 season, including Yutu, which devastated Saipan and Tinian in the northern Marianas islands – the strongest in recorded history to hit a U.S. possession or territory. And in February, that area also saw Super Typhoon Wutip, which just missed Guam.
Super Typhoon Trami became the worst storm to hit Okinawa in six years, flooded significant portions of the island and left parts of it without power for nearly a week.
This blog post is designed to get folks ready – especially newcomers who aren’t used to such beasts – for the upcoming typhoon season. What to do, where to go, how to prepare when one of those nasty things bears down on your area.
Two keys: Preparation, communication
• It is never too early to get supplied for tropical cyclones. One never knows, after the season actually begins, when one might strike. Keep non-perishables, drinking water, batteries, flashlights and portable radios and supplies for kids and pets (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.
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 an 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. Joint Region Marianas and the governor of Guam do likewise for their part of the Pacific.
TCCOR All-Clear is declared and/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 damage that hasn’t been handled.
It’s very important to note that there is no time limit for the beginning or ending of one TCCOR and the start of another. It's all based on wind speeds, particularly damaging winds of 58 mph or greater.
On Okinawa, TCCOR upgrades and downgrades are at the discretion of the 18th Wing commanding officer, while downline camp commanders provide inputs based on local conditions.
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. Tropical cyclones are capable of dumping as many as 50 inches of rain in a 12-hour period.
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: Aside from being season default conditions at southwestern Japan bases, 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, diapers? 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 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. Don’t 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. This is when your preparation should be completed. 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. 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 living on higher ground. 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. 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 and 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 on Okinawa to see the breakers; a maverick wave could pull you into the drink. Do not attempt to go surfing in such conditions. 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 as 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.
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. DODEA teachers, staff and students will return to school during normal hours.
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 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 get 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 48,000 members.
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 tailored for the average reader: Wind speeds, precipitation, updated TCCORs and when.