Okinawa braces for wind, rain as typhoon approaches
September 11, 2003
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Military bases on Okinawa shut down at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday as Typhoon Maemi approached the island.
And though the winds appeared mild at dawn, the word from the 18th Weather Flight was that it was the calm before the storm.
“This is a slow moving, powerful storm,” said Capt. Tom Tibbetts, 18th Weather Flight commander. “Right now [6:30 a.m.], the storm is 170 miles due south of us and will be moving slowly to the west-northwest, at about 10 knots [11½ mph].
“We’re going to be some 80 miles to the east of the center of the storm and will feel its effects for quite some time.”
He said Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 1-Caution was declared once wind gusts of 40 mph were recorded at the airfield.
Under TCCOR 1C, all nonessential personnel are released to their homes, and all schools and businesses are closed. Movement about bases are kept to a minimum with an “essential vehicles only” policy in effect.
Sustained typhoon-strength winds of 57 mph were expected to start whipping the island by noon Wednesday, Tibbetts said.
“This storm has a real slow ramp up,” he said. “But once it starts, it’ll be around for a while.”
He predicted island bases would go into recovery mode early Friday, meaning schools and businesses would not reopen until Friday morning.
Planes based at Kadena were flown to other bases in the Pacific to sit out the storm.
Capt. Jason Goodwin, a flight commander with the 909th Air Refueling Squadron, said the squadron’s 15 planes are reassigned to either Guam or Yokota Air Base and fly regular missions once relocated.
Typhoon Maemi — named for the Korean cicadas that chirp madly to warn of coming typhoons — is expected to reach super typhoon strength as it passes the island with sustained winds of 150 mph at its center and gusts clocking at 185 mph.
The strongest winds on Okinawa are forecast to be 75 mph at 11 a.m. Thursday, with gusts up to 115 mph.
Tibbetts said Okinawa had dodged another bullet.
“We’re going to get lucky — the eye wall is pretty well developed,” he said. “It’s a strong storm and a good thing it’s going to pass to the east of us, and we won’t feel it’s full power.
“It’s going to pass right over the island of Miyako,” he said. “That little island’s is going to get flattened.”
Miyako is 345 miles southwest of Okinawa.
Although the winds on Okinawa did not seem strong Wednesday morning, Tibbetts cautioned residents not to get complacent.
“People on the bases are supposed to stay inside, and there’s a good reason for that,” he said. “The winds can pick up in an instant.”
The Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii on Wednesday morning showed Typhoon Maemi making a sharp turn to the north-northeast once it passes Okinawa, putting it on a course toward Sasebo Naval Base.
Sasebo went into TCCOR 4 — meaning winds are expected to reach 50 miles within 72 hours — at 6 p.m. Tuesday night.
Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, also expected to feel the effects of Maemi, was making preparations for the storm.
The center of the storm was forecast to pass 85 miles to the west of Sasebo late Friday with sustained winds of 115 mph and gusts of 160 mph.
It is expected to pass within 15 miles east of Taegu, South Korea, early Saturday.
Fred Zimmerman contributed to this report.