CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Tropical Storm Soulik should develop into what Kadena Air Base weather officials term a “significant typhoon” in the coming days.

The question is, which way will it go?

Some weather agency computer models project Soulik to curve sharply north toward Japan’s main islands, well away from Okinawa. Other models forecast the storm to track further west and potentially threaten Okinawa before making the turn north, according to Capt. Jonathan Wilson, Kadena’s 18th Wing weather flight commander.

Said Wilson: “There are two options: It could miss us altogether or it could thwack us so hard, it will be unreal.”

At midnight Wednesday, Soulik sat 305 miles south-southeast of Iwo Jima, streaking west-northwest at 15 mph with sustained winds of 69 mph and 86 mph gusts, barely below typhoon strength.

Where the models agree, Wilson said, is that Soulik will move west-northwest toward Iwo Jima by Saturday. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecasts Soulik’s closest point of approach to Iwo Jima to be 186 miles south-southwest at 7 p.m. Thursday.

It should achieve typhoon strength at that point, with sustained 86 mph winds and 104 mph gusts. Soulik then is forecast to slow down as it continues tracking west, then west-southwest into Saturday morning.

But “that’s where the models diverge,” Wilson said. One group of models projects Soulik to curve sharply north toward Japan’s main island of Honshu — and the JTWC’s update at midnight Wednesday agreed with that group — while the other models forecast Soulik to keep tracking west toward Okinawa before turning north.

“They’re differing on when it’s going to make the hard right,” Wilson said. “A hard right or a delayed hard right.”

Either way, he said, “it will become a significant typhoon.” As it lingers southwest of Iwo Jima, the JTWC forecasts Soulik to strengthen by Sunday into the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane, packing sustained 115 mph winds and 144 mph gusts.

That Soulik is forecast to slow as it strengthens is “not a good thing as far as forecast certainty is concerned,” Wilson said.

“If you have a slow-moving boulder, little nudges can move it different ways. If you have a fast-moving boulder, nudges won’t make it change all that much. Right now, I’m still concerned.”

And as of Wednesday, Soulik still was at least five days from Okinawa.

“A lot can change between then and now,” Wilson said.

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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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