Typhoons 101: Get set for wet season
May 14, 2007
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Good sense. Being prepared.
Those are key to staying safe during the upcoming Western Pacific typhoon season, Kadena Air Base’s top weather officer said.
The season officially begins June 1. In the past three years, weather officials have recorded 75 typhoons, including a record-tying 32 in 2004.
Only one storm hit Okinawa in 2005, and two last year.
“We’ve been fortunate,” said Kadena’s 18th Weather Flight commander, Capt. Jonathan Wilson. He warned, however, that “weather patterns that existed for one season very rarely carry over to the next.”
Much like hurricanes in the Atlantic, typhoons form in the tropics and barrel northward and westward, packing high winds and heavy rains.
Though typhoons rarely occur north of the equator before June 1 and after Nov. 30, one did this year. Typhoon Kong-rey passed more than 100 miles north of Guam on April 2, bringing the island between 1 and 2 inches of rain and 30 mph winds.
The danger of typhoons to bases in Japan’s more northerly main islands and South Korea is not as great as is on Okinawa, Wilson said.
“Cooler sea surface temperatures, they don’t provide the energy, the fuel for storms to sustain themselves,” he said. “Upper-level winds tend to be stronger the further north you go, so (tropical storms) tend to get blown apart as they move north.”
Though predicting how many storms may form in a given season is “tough,” Wilson said conditions could be more ripe than in recent years for typhoons to form further east in the Pacific, then curve north toward Okinawa.
“As far as straight numbers, it may end up being an average year, but just like 2004,” Wilson said. “The concern is the pattern may set up that they’ll recurve over the top of us.”
Structures on Pacific bases are designed to withstand all but the most destructive storms.
“Everything here is made of concrete, set deep into the ground and steel-reinforced,” Wilson said.
Trees and power lines are vulnerable, but wind damage to buildings is “usually negligible,” Wilson said.
While certain low-lying areas may be subject to flooding, most of Okinawa lies above sea level, so chances of a Hurricane Katrina-style fishbowl are “slim and none,” Wilson said. Plentiful trees, hills and buildings also mitigate wind speeds over land.
No matter whether tropical storms bear down with 50 mph or 150 mph winds, preparing in advance and taking shelter when needed are key to remaining safe, Wilson said.
“Common sense. Don’t go outside. Don’t place yourself at undue risk,” Wilson said, adding that 58 mph is the “magic number” the military sets for winds that could damage aircraft and other assets.
The best ways to prepare, Wilson said, are to keep abreast of weather and current Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness; keep a stock of nonperishable foods, a radio and batteries, drinking water and cash available; and safeguard important documents.
Around offices and homes, people should do a general cleanup, and outdoor items such as play equipment, trampolines, bicycles and barbecue grills should be secured or moved inside so they don’t become airborne hazards in high winds.
Bases shelter or evacuate military aircraft and other assets.