Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., evacuated 20 aircraft on Aug. 23, ahead of a rare double tropical storm aimed at the U.S. Gulf Coast, but leaders at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., in the north central part of the state, opted to hunker down and keep their B-52 bombers and other airplanes at the base.
Tropical Storm Marco, the first due to arrive, is expected to rake the southern Louisiana coast Aug. 24-25, weakening to a tropical depression but still predicted to produce flash floods and high water extending into eastern Texas. The National Hurricane Center predicted on the afternoon of Aug. 24 that Tropical Storm Laura would strengthen to a Category 2 hurricane by the time it makes landfall near the Louisiana-Texas border the evening of Aug. 26, tracking northward just east of the border and retaining hurricane strength as it reaches the northern part of Louisiana.
Keesler’s 815th Airlift squadron flew their C-130J Super Hercules tactical transports to Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, while the base’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron relocated its WC-130J hurricane-hunter airplanes to Charleston International Airport, South Carolina. From there they will continue to fly storm-monitoring missions in support of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane-tracking enterprise.
Keesler leaders do not plan to evacuate personnel from the base in advance of Marco, expecting only heavy rains, a base spokeswoman said Aug. 24. They had not yet decided what to do about Laura, but are considering moving Basic Military Training recruits from Keesler’s Hattiesburg, Miss., facility to the U.S. Army’s Camp Shelby, some 80 miles north. If the storm continued to move west, the spokeswoman said, BMT trainees are likely to sit out the storm in base dormitories.
A Barksdale spokeswoman said that base has no plans to evacuate aircraft or personnel, but leaders are monitoring the storm and might change their minds depending on the storms’ track and intensity. Barksdale is the headquarters for Global Strike Command and 8th Air Force.
The Air Force previously announced it was evacuating F-22s from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and C-146s of the 492nd Special Operations Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. to Scott Air Force Base, Ill., ahead of the double storm.
MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., which hosts tanker aircraft, also is not planning to move any aircraft ahead of the storms.
Storms and floods have caused several billion dollars’ worth of damage in the last two years at Air Force bases nationwide, with massive hurricane devastation at Tyndall and flooding destruction at Offutt AFB, Neb. The Air Force has since launched studies of how to make its bases more resilient to natural disasters, which are forecast to increase in number and intensity with climate change.