Shan Shan preparations test Kadena's readiness

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Amy Craine
  • 18th OSS/OSW
Kadena AB spent most of the week of Sept. 11 in Mission-Oriented Protective Posture gear, preparing for an upcoming Operational Readiness Inspection. The exercise began late Monday evening and was scheduled to continue through the rest of the week. At the same time, exercise evaluators were beginning to buzz about the impending weather the base might get during the latter half of the week.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center was forecasting for Tropical Storm Shanshan, forecast to become a Typhoon, to come within 50 nautical miles of Okinawa to the east. Winds near the center of the storm were forecast to be sustained at 100 knots with gusts to 125 knots at that time. Although a good distance away, forecasters were already starting to field questions asking, "What's really going to happen?"

The Operational Readiness Exercise continued with the weather forecasters keeping a watchful eye on what Shanshan was going to do next. By Sept. 13, a Typhoon strike meeting was called. Leadership from all branches of the military stationed on Okinawa attended the strike meeting. Master Sgt. Brian McDonald, NCOIC of the Kadena Weather Flight, fielded questions about when Shanshan would possibly strike the island; what crosswinds would be encountered; and when it would be best to start evacuating aircraft, if necessary. The latest track had the typhoon forecast 32 miles south-southeast of Kadena by Sept. 17 and winds were increasing with gusts as high as 140 knots near the center of the storm. However, things were about to change.

By early Thursday morning, Sept. 14, JTWC had the new track available. Instead of the easterly track which had previously been forecast, the storm was now moving west of Okinawa with the closest point of approach 92 nautical miles away. That afternoon, the wather flight recommended to the Wing Commander that Kadena AB be alerted to Typhoon Condition of Readiness 3. TCCOR 3 indicates to on-base personnel and the general populace that destructive winds were possible within 48 hours. TCCOR 3 also gives everyone advance warning to start cleaning up work areas and homes to ensure any unsecured outdoor items are put away.

The Operational Readiness Exercise ended by late afternoon Thursday and on Friday morning, Sept. 15, people were back at work getting 33 of the aircraft stationed on Kadena ready for evacuation. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center continued to move Shanshan farther away from Okinawa throughout the evening of Sept. 14 and into the day Sept. 15 but the crosswinds were still going to create problems for the heavier aircraft. The fighter aircraft were all sheltered and the "heavy" aircraft evacuated to safe havens at other Pacific bases. At 5 p.m., Kadena AB was under TCCOR 2. People were to police their homes and yards again and also restock any items missing from their typhoon kits. The strongest winds expected to occur were between 50 and 60 knots on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 16. The closest point of approach was forecast at 119 nautical miles. The forecasters from the Weather Flight were put on typhoon duty crew and everyone else was sent home to prepare for the storm. On typhoon duty crew, personnel report for duty and do not leave until TCCOR All Clear is issued.

Overnight, rain bands made their way onto the island from the outermost portions of Shanshan. Showers were occurring off and on throughout the night until late in the day Saturday, Sept. 16. That morning, at approximately 5 a.m., all military installations entered TCCOR 1. Winds of 50 knots or greater were anticipated within the next 12 hours. Forecasters fielded phone calls, made live AFN radio reports and continued to watch Typhoon Shanshan as it approached the island. By 2 p.m. Japan Standard time, TCCOR 1 Caution was issued and all outdoor activity was halted. Winds were already reaching 35-49 knots and continued to increase. By 5:25 p.m. Sept. 16th, all military installations entered TCCOR 1 Emergency, indicating that all personnel should remain indoors and away from windows due to 50 knot winds occurring on station.

The maximum gust recorded by Kadena Weather Flight was 55 knots at 10:12 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16. Sustained winds reached as high as 38 knots and rainfall totaled 1.51 inches, ending by 3 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 17. Naha International Airport recorded maximum sustained winds of 41 knots and wind gusts at 61 knots. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma recorded maximum sustained winds of 30 knots and wind gusts at 50 knots. Futenma NAS also recorded 2.21 inches of rainfall.

Although a mild typhoon by most people's standards on Okinawa, Shanshan caused immeasurable damage to nearby smaller islands in the direct path of the storm. Had Shanshan been a direct hit to Okinawa, the damage it could have caused may have been devastating to the 16 U.S. Military Installations located on the island as well as the 30,000 personnel and dependents located there.

In addition to the Operational Readiness Exercise, the storm preparation gave the base a good test their emergency procedures' effectiveness. The successful preparation for the storm helped increase the base's confidence in its emergency plans and procedures. Kadena worked together to make sure that the facilities, assets, personnel and dependents took the precautions needed to be ready for Shanshan.