U.S. Forces Japan preps for upcoming typhoon season
This week, Okinawa is facing a whopper of a storm. The same turbulent tempest will pass through the bases of mainland Japan, leaving a trail of paperwork in its wake.
A series of three Typhoon Readiness exercises are scheduled this month at bases across mainland Japan and Okinawa to help weather forecast units, commands, public works departments and many others prepare for the inevitable storm season in the western Pacific.
While the typhoons are virtual and the reactions made behind closed doors, the process could help save property, military assets and lives, officials say. Typhoon Readiness exercises are held each year to allow bases to dust off their emergency checklists and test communications. The fake storms start off much like the real thing — at a distance. As they approach, bases can test readiness at various Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness (TCCOR) levels, redeploying planes and ships, closing down services and notifying the public of potential dangers.
“It’s a checklist that marches you down the time line based on the forecasted proximity of the storm,” said Lt. Col. Mark Arlinghaus, commander of the 18th Operations Support Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.
The exercise has four main purposes: test and evaluate warning and notification procedures; review and evaluate response checklists; raise public awareness; and test communication and information dissemination.
From the base-wide procedures, each individual unit can test its responses and warning systems. At Kadena, for example, the base has about 100 aircraft to protect or send away, while making sure services such as medical evacuation can continue.
The exercises also allow forecasters to hone their skills and communication. Typhoons are tracked by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii and weather units at each base.
The JTWC, using forecasting models from the Japan Meteorological Agency, the military, and the National Hurricane Center, passes information to local units, which monitor change to predict how a storm will affect their own bases, said Maj. Erin Willingham, 20th Operational Weather Squadron’s assistant director of operations. “Sometimes a typhoon will zigzag, requiring adjustments to the forecast track,” he said.
The exercise finally tests how warnings are disseminated. Minutes after a change, reports are to be aired on American Forces television and radio channels.
“AFN radio and television are the fastest ways for us to inform military families of the changing conditions,” Willingham said.
The Typhoon Readiness drills are scheduled for Okinawa, Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni this week; the Kanto Plain (Yokota Air Base, Camp Zama, Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Camp Fuji, and Yokosuka Naval Base) April 10-14; and at Misawa Air Base on April 24-28.
Even though the drills affect each unit, they won’t have a noticeable effect on the general public, since nothing will really shut down.
Typhoon season in mainland Japan runs May 15 to Nov. 30 and June 1 to early December on Okinawa.