U.S. bases scramble as Typhoon Fitow blows into Japan
U.S. military officials secured planes and ships, canceled or shortened school days and told some nonessential base personnel to stay home Thursday in preparation for Typhoon Fitow. The storm was expected to bring powerful winds and heavy rain to the Kanto Plain later in the day before moving toward Misawa Air Base in northern Japan.
Periodic downpours broke out Wednesday as the storm’s leading edge pumped thunderstorms and rainshowers into the Tokyo area. Military forecasters predicted 4 to 6 inches of precipitation for the region.
“We’re just on the edge of some feeder bands,” Maj. Jonathan Leffler, commander of the 374th Operations Support Squadron’s weather flight at Yokota Air Base, said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re in it now. I think we’re in the ride now.”
Yokota, Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Camp Zama and Camp Fuji moved into Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 2 on Wednesday morning. Later in the afternoon, Yokosuka Naval Base followed suit.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Fitow was about 400 miles south of Tokyo, moving northwest at 8 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 86 mph, gusting to 103 mph.
Officials said all five military bases planned to initiate TCCOR 1 early Thursday, meaning destructive winds of at least 58 mph were anticipated within 12 hours.
Although Fitow is expected to weaken once it comes ashore, Leffler said the storm could generate 50 mph winds and 75 mph gusts around the Kanto Plain. Landfall is expected somewhere to the west of Mount Fuji about 9 p.m. Thursday, he added.
He said U.S. bases in Tokyo can expect a gradual increase in winds after noon Thursday. The strong winds and heavy rain should continue into the night before conditions improve late Friday morning.
Despite losing some punch as it moves over land, Fitow figures to bring wind and rain to the Misawa area late Friday, but it’s uncertain whether it will remain a tropical storm at that point, according to Leffler.
Military officials on the Kanto Plain took precautions Wednesday afternoon.
Base commanders closed all schools for Thursday at Yokota and Yokosuka. Students at Zama and Atsugi were to be released in the afternoon after a half-day. There also was discussion about delaying the start of school Friday, officials said.
At Yokosuka, only mission-essential personnel were to report for duty Thursday. Two destroyers, the USS McCain and USS McCample, were taken out to sea in advance of the typhoon.
C-130 and C-21 aircraft — along with UH-1 helicopters — were secured in hangars at Yokota, said Capt. Chris Watt, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman.
“We’re making sure our own folks clean up whatever debris is outside their homes,” he added. “They should secure barbecues, lawn furniture, bicycles — stuff that might fly away. Even if it doesn’t hit at full typhoon speed, there will still be some strong winds.”
Air Force Col. Eric Schnaible, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman, said Wednesday that UH-60 Black Hawks and other aircraft also were being moved into hangars at Zama and Atsugi.
“We’re taking precautions by battening down the hatches really across the Kanto Plain to guard against the high winds that are expected,” Schnaible said.
“The key thing for military individuals and their families is to heed the precautions and warnings,” he added. “Use common sense and take precautions. We’ll ride it out and get back to business.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Chris Fowler contributed to this story.