Typhoon experts stress awareness, preparedness
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Though weather officials are projecting a “slightly below-average” number of tropical storms for the third straight summer, they are warning residents not to get complacent, now that the northwest Pacific’s tropical cyclone season has begun.
“People haven’t had to pull out their typhoon kits, so maybe they’re raiding them for batteries or soup,” said Maj. J. Brandon Alexander, Kadena’s 18th Wing Weather Flight commander. “It’s easy to kind of go, ‘Oh, it’s going to be fine; we don’t have anything to worry about.’ It’s always something to take seriously every time we have a typhoon headed our way.” Seasonal tropical cyclone condition of readiness 4 was declared for Okinawa on June 1, signaling the season’s beginning. It normally runs through Nov. 30, when all clear is declared, but Joint Typhoon Warning Center officials caution that tropical storms can hit any time of year.
The 25-year average for the number of storms in a given season is 31, according to JTWC director Robert J. Falvey. That number has shifted lower by four to six per season the last five years.
“I don’t think, meteorologically, there’s any one determining factor in that,” he said, adding that it’s not easy to project year to year how many the Pacific will see.
A projection from a Hong Kong weather observatory calls for a “slightly below-average year again, but by one or two storms,” Falvey said. “So, we’re getting closer to that average.”
Man-yi was the last typhoon to strike Okinawa, with winds exceeding 100 mph on July 13, 2007. Since then, Okinawa has entered TCCOR-1C (caution) just once, and last year saw TCCOR-3 only twice.
Riding out a tropical cyclone safely, Alexander said, means doing two things well in advance: being prepared and aware.
Families should ensure their typhoon kits are well stocked with batteries, canned goods, water, a flashlight and radio, as well as cleaning up and tying down loose objects around the house, he said.
“The biggest thing is to take things seriously,” Alexander said, stressing the importance of paying attention to local forecasts and tropical cyclone condition of readiness changes on the TV, radio and Internet.
“We definitely don’t want people to freak out and storm the PX and commissary. Definitely take it seriously, heed all the warnings, but don’t panic.”
While typhoons can be powerful and damaging, most areas where U.S. bases are located are well enough above sea level to avoid most storm surges.
“Fortunately on Okinawa, they know how to build homes to withstand those types of things,” Alexander said.
Storms tend to lose their punch as they head north toward Japan’s main islands and the Korean peninsula, but can still cause damage, officials said.
The magic wind-speed number when real damage to life and property can happen is 58 mph or greater, officials said. “When winds get to (58-mph) sustained, it’s hard to stand, hard to walk without holding onto something,” said Capt. Scott Tracy of the 18th Wing Weather Flight.
In the storm’s run-up, base officials do their best to keep Web sites updated with the latest conditions, along with storm updates on AFN.
When Okinawa enters TCCOR-1C (caution), AFN’s DJs stay on the air 24 hours a day, announcing accelerated TCCORs, weather updates and closures, “so as things change and conditions warrant, we can get that information out immediately,” said AFN-Okinawa affiliate superintendent Air Force Master Sgt. Dorlinda Barker.
TCCORs can be found on base Web sites, along with a preparedness check list.
Though Japanese citizens can be seen out and about in a storm during TCCOR-1E (emergency), that’s not a sign that it’s safe to be outdoors.
“They’ll continue their day, the power’s still on, businesses are open, but there’s still going to be tree limbs, umbrellas, small projectiles flying through the air that make it even more dangerous,” Alexander said.
Alexander’s advice? Stay inside until the “all clear” is given.
“Just be alert,” he said. “Heed warnings and take them seriously.”