Typhoon Nabi shifts course, now heading to Okinawa
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Okinawa now is directly in the cross hairs of powerful Typhoon Nabi after the storm shifted course overnight Wednesday, leaving U.S. military bases bracing for the blow and scrambling to secure equipment or move it to safety.
“We’re going to get them out of Dodge,” 18th Wing spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Paoli said of the KC-135 Stratotankers and E-3 Airborne Warning and Control Systems aircraft at Kadena Air Base. The planes already were being evacuated Thursday, he said, to mainland Japan and Guam.
The northwest Pacific typhoon season’s 14th tropical storm is forecast to slam into the island just north of Kadena early Tuesday morning, packing super-typhoon- strength winds, according to Joint Typhoon Warning Center projections and 18th Weather Flight officials at Kadena.
“Starting around noon on Saturday,” said 1st Lt. Jonathan Wilson, 18th Weather Flight lead meteorologist, “things will start to deteriorate rapidly.”
At 9 p.m. Thursday, Nabi was 454 miles northwest of Saipan, slowly rumbling west-northwest out of the Marianas islands area at 11½ mph, with sustained winds of 144 mph and gusts up to 173 mph.
Nabi is forecast to bend slightly to the northwest over the weekend with the eye clipping Okinawa’s northern edges at 5 a.m. Tuesday. Forecasts call for the storm’s center to pass 51 miles north of Kadena, with sustained winds of 155 mph gusting up to 190 mph, comparable to a Western Hemisphere Category 5 hurricane.
“In terms of forward motion, it has slowed” since early Thursday morning, Wilson said. “But we’re still expecting an almost direct hit on the island.”
No elevated tropical cyclone conditions of readiness had been declared by Thursday evening.
That the storm is projected to pass to the north “is better” than if it tracks to the south, he said. Tracking to the south would mean “we’ll get the storm’s northeast quadrant” packing the worst of the winds and rain.
Winds of about 29 mph should start raking Okinawa by midday Saturday, he said, increasing to 46 mph to 52 mph on Sunday. On Monday, “we start really getting into it” with winds of 58 mph, which would trigger an upgrade to TCCOR-1E.
Should the eye pass north, military bases can expect winds of between 92 mph and 104 mph. If it passes south, those winds would increase to between 115 mph and 132 mph. “The island’s only 60 miles long,” Wilson said. “That’s how big a difference 60 miles either way can make.”
In any event, he said, Okinawa can expect “anywhere from 6 to 12 to 15 inches” of rain, “just depending on how close the eye gets and how slowly it goes over the island.”
In general, “we’re looking at this very seriously,” said Paoli, the 18th Wing spokesman. He said that 18th Wing commanding officer Brig. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, the wing’s commander, has videotaped an announcement for broadcast on American Forces Network television, “which will air every hour on the hour until the typhoon passes.
“We’re taking all the usual precautions but with a slightly greater sense of concern because of the power of this thing,” Paoli said.
KC-135s not already tasked for military operations will fly to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. AWACS aircraft are making their way to Misawa Air Base, Japan, to wait out the storm, Paoli said.
F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter-bombers from Osan Air Base, South Korea, and F-15 Eagle fighter-interceptors from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, deployed to Kadena will cut those deployments short and head home early, Paoli added.
If Nabi remains on its current track, it could become the worst storm to hit Okinawa since Super Typhoon Bart walloped the island on Sept. 22, 1999, with winds of 145 mph reported at Kadena and 173 mph at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Bart was Okinawa’s fiercest storm since Super Typhoon Faye raked the island with 145 mph winds in September 1957.