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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Preparation, good communication and taking responsibility to look after fellow servicemembers are the keys to keeping safe during typhoon season, U.S. military officials say.

The Pacific’s typhoon season officially starts June 1. In the past two years, a total of 49 such storms were recorded by Pacific weather officials, including a record-tying 28 in 2004. That year, 13 tropical storms either affected Okinawa’s weather or passed close to the island.

According to Capt. Colin Reece, weather officer at Kadena Air Base’s 18th Weather Flight, on average Okinawa is affected by four or five tropical storms per season, with the annual average of storms causing winds of 58 mph or greater being around 1.5.

“It’s still enough to scare you,” Reece said.

Unlike the U.S. Gulf Coast, which suffered extensive damage and flooding from Hurricane Katrina, structures in most Pacific areas, especially Okinawa — right in the heart of “Typhoon Alley” — are designed to withstand all but the most destructive storms.

“It’s built for storms,” Reece said of Okinawa. “It’s not below sea level, it’s hilly, the construction is much more fortified. Flooding is still there, but there’s not nearly the potential for a New Orleans-style fishbowl.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that people should be less cautious, Reece and a spokesman for Kadena’s 18th Wing said.

“Walking around in the middle of a typhoon when you have [80 mph] winds blowing debris and rain up at you just isn’t a smart thing to do,” 18th Wing spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Paoli said.

So what does one do?

“Things that make sense, prepare, stay safe and follow rules and regulations,” Reece said.

The best ways to prepare, Reece and Paoli said, are to keep abreast of weather and current Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness, and to keep a stock of nonperishable or canned foods and drinking water available and ready for any contingency.

All American bases on Okinawa remain in seasonal TCCOR 4 until Nov. 30, as a precautionary measure.

“When the season starts, typhoons can creep up on you easily within 72 hours,” Reece said.

As typhoons approach the island, accelerated TCCORs are declared and posted on Kadena’s weather Web site and aired on AFN TV and radio.

Around offices and homes, people should do a general cleanup, and outdoor items such as plastic play swings, trampolines, bicycles and barbecue grills should be secured or moved inside, Reece said.

The highest TCCOR, 1-E (emergency), will be declared when winds of 58 mph or greater are occurring. At that point, Reece said, U.S. Forces Japan regulations mandate that all nonessential personnel go indoors and remain there until the all-clear is sounded.

“It’s just dangerous to be out there at all” during 1-E, Reece said, adding that the biggest danger comes from “flying debris.”

“People living off base need to understand that, too,” Reece said. “Safety is paramount. You just don’t test Mother Nature.”

The danger to bases in Japan’s main islands and in South Korea is not as great, Reece said. As storms move north, they lose “a lot of strength” because of cooler sea temperatures, which govern the storms’ strength and “provide the source of a typhoon’s power.”

Plus, bases in the Kanto Plain and South Korea’s inland bases and camps “are sheltered quite a bit.”

“The main concern area in Korea, the most potential to get hit, is the southeastern coast” around Busan, Reece said.

The bottom line is keeping people out of harm’s way, Paoli said.

“If we have an airman or a family member injured, that has a ripple effect in the community and it degrades our mission,” he said.

Tropical Cyclone Conditions of ReadinessA list of Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness and what they mean to U.S. military bases and personnel on Okinawa:

TCCOR-4

Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are possible within 72 hours. TCCOR-4 will continuously be in effect as a minimum condition of readiness from June 1 to Nov. 30 annually. Now is the time to stock up on food and typhoon supplies.

TCCOR-3

Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are possible within 48 hours. Initiate a general cleanup around homes and office.

TCCOR-2

Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are possible within 24 hours. Remove or secure all outside items.

TCCOR-1

Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are possible within 12 hours. No school for Department of Defense Dependents Schools students. Staff and teachers will work normal hours, unless changed by DODDS-Okinawa district superintendent. Fill any containers you can use for water storage. If living in low-lying quarters, make arrangements to stay with a friend. Make final check of food and other supplies.

TCCOR-1C (caution)

Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are anticipated within 12 hours. Actual winds are between 39 and 56 mph. All non-essential personnel will be released to their quarters, DODDS schools will close and staff and teachers will return or remain home at this time. Base exchange, shops, commissary, shoppettes, gasoline stations, services facilities, clubs, restaurants, recreational facilities and post offices will close. Movement about the base should be kept to a minimum. Security forces will enforce "essential vehicles only" policy, in accordance with Kadena base operations plan 32-1, "Base Disaster Operations Plan."

TCCOR-1E (emergency)

Actual winds of 58 mph or greater are occurring at this time. All outside activity is prohibited.

TCCOR-1R (recovery)

Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are no longer occurring. Actual winds are between 39 and 56 mph. Nonessential functions remain closed unless directed by the installation commander. All but emergency essential personnel remain in their quarters.

Storm Watch

Typhoon is moving away, but the base is still feeling some effects. Hazardous conditions may exist due to storm damage. In some cases, the storm could return to Okinawa, so remain alert. All military and civilian personnel will return to work within two hours or at normal duty hours, and commissary and base exchange will resume operations unless otherwise instructed by their installation commander.

All Clear

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. From June 1 to Nov. 30, seasonal TCCOR-4 will resume.

NOTE: Wind speeds shown above for each TCCOR serve as a guide for decision-making. Final decision on TCCOR declaration rests with Kadena Air Base's 18th Wing commander, weather forecasts, safety and operational and mission concerns.

On the Web ...

¶Follow Pacific tropical storm forecast tracks and wind speeds here

¶Get updated forecasts and Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness updates here

¶Get Kadena Air Base's Emergency Actions Guide here (PDF format)

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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