Air Force bases in the southeastern United States are again hunkering down for a hurricane aimed at the Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Delta, which moved toward Mexico as a Category 4 storm on Oct. 6, is slated to hit southeast Louisiana on Oct. 9 and cause a “life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds,” particularly in Louisiana and Mississippi, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., said Oct. 5 it’s unclear whether Delta will strike near the base, but encouraged locals to start preparing. The base declared Hurricane Condition (HURCON) 4 midday on Oct. 6, meaning it has 72 hours before it may see destructive winds.
“As of right now we don’t plan to evacuate,” Keesler said Oct. 6 on Facebook. “Once the storm gets closer and we have more of an idea [of] how strong it is going to be, then we can make that decision. We have plans in place for if we need to evacuate and are prepared to do so if needed.”
The base, in an Oct. 6 release, said it is moving aircraft from both the 815th Airlift Squadron and the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron to Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, before the storm arrives. The WC-130s from the 53rd WRS are flying into the storm to provide weather information to the National Hurricane Center.
Barksdale Air Force Base in northwest Louisiana has not indicated it expects to be hard-hit by the storm.
“Base leadership is currently discussing the trajectory of Hurricane Delta and the effects the storm could potentially have on base personnel and equipment,” 2nd Bomb Wing spokesman Capt. Chris Sullivan said Oct. 6. “We are closely monitoring the storm, but no decisions have been made at this time.”
Farther east, Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle declared HURCON 5 on Oct. 5, meaning it was preparing for surface winds faster than 58 mph within the next four days.
“The forecast progression of the storm slowed, which will allow the intensity to reach a Category 4 over the central [Gulf of Mexico],” Eglin said on Facebook Oct. 6. “Current impacts to Eglin and the ranges are chances of 35-knot sustained winds with gusts into the low 40s early Friday morning into Saturday, along with 3 to 5 inches of accumulated rainfall.”
Nearby Hurlburt Field is monitoring the storm but has not decided to evacuate, according to a base post.
“Our area will be on the right side of the storm, which means local impacts late Friday into Saturday in the form of heavy rain, gusty winds at the coast, some coastal flooding, and the potential for isolated tornadoes,” 1st Special Operations Wing Commander Col. Jocelyn J. Schermerhorn said on social media. “Rip currents will continue to be a threat at local beaches from now through the weekend until Hurricane Delta passes.”
And Tyndall Air Force Base, the Florida installation largely demolished by Hurricane Michael in 2018, said it is still tracking a storm that could change direction. “It is still too early to accurately determine where Hurricane Delta will make landfall or at what intensity,” the base said on Facebook.
The Air Force has refined its natural disaster planning and response in the past few years after learning from Hurricane Michael and other storms. But the busy 2020 hurricane season is still causing extra stress across a weather-weary South already suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.
“The uncertainty is likely unsettling,” Schermerhorn said. “Focus on what you can control and prepare while there is still time.”