Gulf Coast Air Bases Prepare for Possible Twin Hurricanes

Air Force bases along the Gulf of Mexico are preparing for twin tropical storm systems that are expected to make landfall as hurricanes within the next several days.

Tropical Storm Laura, as well as a tropical depression likely to strengthen into Tropical Storm Marco, could grow into a rare case of two tropical cyclones to barrel through the Gulf of Mexico at the same time, according to the National Weather Service. They are slated to strike Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Puerto Rico during the week of Aug. 23.

Wind and water could smack communities in the Florida Panhandle that have barely started rebuilding from other recent storms. Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., was decimated by Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018 and is now staring down new potential threats.

Tyndall declared HURCON 5 on Aug. 21, meaning the weather systems could bring destructive winds within four days. The HURCON scale ranges from 5 to 1E—when sustained winds of 58 mph or gusts of at least 69 mph are occurring—then 1R when the storm is over and safe zones are being cleared.

A base spokesman said Tyndall is preparing to remove as many planes as it can if needed, but as of Friday evening evacuations haven’t started yet. The base will evacuate everything that can be moved, but other systems, like planes that are undergoing maintenance, will shelter in place.

Tyndall is in charge of F-22 fighter jets, T-38 trainers, QF-16 target drones, and other contractor assets. Nearby Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which houses Tyndall-owned F-22s, can move those jets in collaboration with Tyndall officials.

Tyndall employees and their families should monitor weather reports as well as Tyndall’s website and its social media; review their family, personal, and pet emergency plans; ready their shelter or evacuation kits; and ensure their vehicles, generators, prescriptions, and food supplies are gassed up and fully stocked, the base’s Facebook page said.

A hard hit would slow the base’s nearly $5 billion effort to rebuild from Hurricane Michael as well.

Eglin may enter HURCON 5 on Aug. 21, a base spokeswoman said that afternoon. The key aircraft test hub and fighter jet base has not announced any aircraft evacuations. Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., a major training hub, has entered HURCON 5 as well. Air Force Magazine could not reach Keesler officials the same day.

A spokesman at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., home to a tanker wing, U.S. Special Operations Command, and U.S. Central Command, said Aug. 22 that the base was not evacuating any aircraft.

Hurlburt Field, Fla., where Air Force Special Operations Command is headquartered, said it is closely watching Tropical Storm Laura but did not discuss further precautions. Barksdale Air Force Base, La., home to Air Force Global Strike Command, has not announced any storm preparations.

Air Force Magazine could not reach officials at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, by press time Aug. 21.

The two storms are the latest in a string of natural disasters that have battered the Air Force over the last few years, from hurricanes to California wildfires to a historic flood at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. The service is studying how to make its installations more resilient as the climate changes and severe weather events threaten military readiness.

The coronavirus pandemic will complicate matters further in the hard-hit South if homes are destroyed and people need to seek shelter elsewhere.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season could include up to 19 named storms and 10 hurricanes through Nov. 30. Six of those may cause major damage.

The East Coast is expected to see a busier-than-usual hurricane season, but Hawaii and the Central Pacific could get two to six tropical depressions, named storms, and hurricanes this year. That’s about average or fewer than normal, according to NOAA.