U.S. Pacific bases escape worst of ’09 typhoons
December 5, 2009
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — By all accounts, the 2009 northwest Pacific’s tropical cyclone season was a relatively quiet one for U.S. bases.
Twenty-six numbered storms had received Joint Typhoon Warning Center warnings during the June 1-Nov. 30 season. Of those, 22 were severe enough to become named storms. However, only a handful threatened Pacific military bases.
The season continued a pattern of below-normal storm activity for U.S. bases. Not since 2007 has Okinawa, at the heart of so-called “Typhoon Alley,” been hit by a typhoon, and only three times has the highest warning, Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 1-E, been issued in the past five years.
U.S. bases on Okinawa reverted from TCCOR-4 to All Clear on Tuesday, signaling the end of the season on the island. Guam remains in TCCOR-4 year-round.
“We’ve been lucky,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brian McDonald of Kadena Air Base’s 18th Wing Weather Flight. He added that no single weather factor has been responsible for the five-year downturn.
Taiwan and the Philippines bore the brunt of the season, getting hit by a combined 12 storms.
“There are going to be years” like this, when those two countries get pounded, then the tracks might shift more over Japan and Okinawa, McDonald said. “The water has certainly been warm enough. It’s just that nothing’s come our way.”
It’s a far cry from 2004, when a record-tying 28 numbered storms were recorded and 13 of those affected Japan and Okinawa — eight of them from September to November alone.
The Philippines suffered the worst during the 2009 season and prompted a U.S. military humanitarian relief mission. Typhoon Ketsana rumbled through Luzon in late September, flooding metro Manila, killing at least 246 people, causing more than $100 million in damage and leaving thousands homeless. Typhoon Parma brought even more rain the next week.
Typhoon Morakot in August became the deadliest storm in Taiwan’s history, with 461 killed, 192 missing and $3.3 billion in damage. Morakot dumped nearly 110 inches of rain and triggered floods and landslides throughout mountainous southern Taiwan.
Prior to making landfall, Morakot lashed Okinawa with 65 mph wind gusts. U.S. bases reached TCCOR-3 for a day, and the storm forced 252 flight cancellations, stranding more than 41,000 during the peak Obon summer holidays.
Mainland Japan took its hardest hit on Oct. 8, when Melor, the season’s 20th storm, slammed ashore near Nagoya, killing two and injuring 114. Flights were canceled at Japan’s major international airports, more than 3 million train passengers were delayed, U.S. Navy ships put to sea and base schools were closed.
Though the season is technically over, one typhoon remains active in the northwest Pacific: Nida, the 26th storm of the season, spawned southeast of Guam on Nov. 21.