Okinawa officials urge typhoon readiness
Stars and Stripes May 6, 2008
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — They came at Okinawa in quick succession in September and October 2004 — a string of eight tropical cyclones in a three-month span that highlighted the busiest typhoon season in the island’s history.
Since then, just three storms have forced military officials to declare the highest level of typhoon readiness for U.S. bases on Okinawa. Such a lack of fierce storms can be both a blessing and a curse, Kadena’s top weather official said.
“It’s easy to become complacent,” said Capt. J. Brandon Alexander, Kadena’s 18th Wing Weather Flight commanding officer. Longtime residents of the island, in particular, “might tend to disregard warnings.”
No matter how long somebody has lived on Okinawa, when accelerated conditions of readiness are issued, “people should be reminded of actions they should take.”
The northwest Pacific Ocean is typically one of the busiest areas for tropical cyclone activity, averaging 28 storms per year, according to Joint Typhoon Warning Center records.
While 2004 featured a record-tying 32 tropical storms, the last three years averaged six fewer. The most fierce storm the past four years was Man-yi, which pounded Okinawa with 105 mph gusts and 10 inches of rain last July 12-13.
Still, “you can’t use the previous year to determine what will happen,” Alexander said. “You have to be prepared for whatever comes our way.”
Okinawa is the lead land mass in what is popularly called “Typhoon Alley.” It sits “in that area where storms decide which way they will go,” either straight into China or curving over Okinawa toward South Korea or Japan’s main islands, Alexander said.
“We’re in the middle of that area, where it could go either way,” he said.
Storms farther north of Okinawa tend to be somewhat weaker, since sea-surface temperatures north of the tropics can’t sustain and support a tropical cyclone as well as they can nearer Okinawa.
Even so, Typhoon Fitow last Sept. 6 lashed Yokota Air Base and Naval Air Facility Atsugi with winds up to 60 mph and 8 inches of rain.
Like hurricanes east of the international date line, typhoons can pack a severe punch, disgorging scores of inches of rain and raking land masses with winds exceeding 100 mph.
For that reason, base officials go the extra mile to ensure that the military population is indoors and assets such as aircraft are tied down, hangared or safely off-island at the height of such storms. On mainland Japan, ships are at times sent to sea to ride out the storm.
Okinawa remains in seasonal Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 4 from June 1 to Nov. 30. “There’s always a possibility that a storm could be within three or four days of us, or could form right by us,” Alexander said.
Varying degrees of preparation and cleanup are mandated by base authorities as storms approach and accelerated TCCORs are declared. Such warnings are carried on AFN radio Surf 648-AM and Wave 89.1-FM and on AFN-TV and base command access channels throughout the island.
“People need to be vigilant,” Alexander said.
Cleanup around housing units and office areas, and shopping for essentials such as batteries, canned foods and bottled water, should be complete when TCCOR 1 is issued, meaning 58 mph winds are expected within 12 hours.
All outside activity, whether on or off base, is prohibited when TCCOR 1E (emergency) is declared, when 58 mph winds are actually occurring.
Tropical Cyclone Conditions of ReadinessA list of Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness and what they mean to U.S. military bases and personnel:
TCCOR 4Destructive winds of 58 mph or greater are possible within 72 hours. Stock up on food and typhoon supplies. TCCOR 4 is in effect as a minimum condition of readiness from June 1 to Nov. 30 on Okinawa.
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 otherwise instructed by the school 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 nonessential 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. On Okinawa, security forces will enforce “essential vehicles only” policy. Other bases may use similar measures according to their tropical cyclone policies.
TCCOR 1E (emergency) Winds of 58 mph or greater are occurring. Outside activity 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, 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.
Follow progress, path, wind speed and direction of tropical storms at https://metocph.nmci.navy.mil/jtwc.php.
Base commander’s access channels offer up-to-the-minute weather forecasts and typhoon warnings and alerts. Get weather-related information at the following sites and phone numbers:
OkinawaKadena Air Base — http://weather.kadenaservices.com. DSN 634-4081.