CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — As the tropical storm season descends on Okinawa, U.S. military officials are telling base residents to keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for the most up-to-date information.

Social networking proved to be an important tool two months ago in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan, and again this week when Tropical Storm Aere passed by the island, according to Kadena Air Base spokesman Ed Gulick.

“Facebook has become very important for us,” Gulick said, explaining that posted messages are instant, as opposed to the time it takes to update conventional communication channels. Everything from Kadena’s official website to commander’s TV access channels to the roadside marquees takes time. “And you have to be on base” to see the latter two, he said.

The Facebook pages of Kadena, AFN Okinawa and Marine Corps Bases Japan boast more than 14,000 followers combined.

Last year, Okinawa endured its quietest tropical storm season since 1998. A record-low 14 named storms were recorded, breaking the previous low of 16 set in 1998. Just 19 numbered storms were recorded, nine below the annual average.

Is there a pattern or a trend developing?

“You could have a record year,” 18th Wing Weather Flight commander Capt. Kyle W. Paslay said. “We can theorize all we want about global warming, ocean desalination, but I don’t think anybody’s tied anything statistically to it. You never know.”

But as last year’s Typhoon Kompasu proved, residents should never let their guard down. Before Kompasu — which ravaged Okuma Recreation Area on northern Okinawa — it had been at least two years since the island had seen a 58-mph storm.

“All it takes is one,” Paslay said.

Thus, preparation and not taking chances remain keys to staying safe. When winds exceed 58 mph, structural damage can occur, and objects such as tree limbs and garbage can lids can become dangerous projectiles, officials said.

In advance of a storm’s arrival, it’s important to tie down loose objects or store them, and make a trip to the commissary to pick up necessities such as water, batteries and non-perishable food, Paslay said.

“The biggest thing is to stay inside as directed” during a TCCOR-1 Emergency. That rule applies off base as well, even when Americans might see Japanese driving about in 100-mph winds.

“TCCORs apply everywhere,” Paslay said. “Many Okinawans have been through big storms; they’re fairly used to it here. But it’s still a great danger to yourself.”

One bit of good news is there is little danger of a Katrina-style fishbowl on Okinawa, which is “built to withstand typhoons and built to shed water, not hold it,” Paslay said. He cited Typhoon Chaba last fall, which dumped 12 inches of rain on Okinawa “and it wasn’t an issue.”

Okinawa remains in seasonal TCCOR-4 from June 1 to November 30, since storms can form even right over the island without warning, officials said. Guam remains in TCCOR-4 year-round.

Tropical cyclones tend to lose most of their strength as they move north toward Japan and Korea, but can still pack a powerful punch and shouldn’t be taken lightly, officials said.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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