BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La., Oct. 17, 2017 —
The 26th Operational Weather Squadron here operates day and night to track the weather and watch for possible weather threats in the Southeast, a region that includes 13 states and 151 military installations.
"Prepare, provide, protect," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Kehoe, 26th OWS commander. "We prepare our airmen to go anywhere in the world and support Air Force and Army operations, [with] 30-hour airfield forecasts, as well as weather watches, warnings, and advisories, and we protect people and military assets in our AOR."
Their area comprises Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri. That includes not only a geographical hurricane area, but parts of Tornado Alley as well, along with winter storms in the Midwest. While the 26th OWS writes forecasts only for the Southeast, the squadron also keeps watch on weather in Central America and the Caribbean to monitor developments.
While the squadron sends weather forecasts and warnings to military instillations in the Southeast, the unit also can brief an installation commander when high-threat situations such as hurricanes are expected to occur.
"We give our recommendations and weather forecasts to each base, and then it's the discretion of the installation commander on what to do," said Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Norris, 26th OWS noncommissioned officer in charge of theater weather operations. "We give them the intel. They make the decision."
Four hurricanes have struck the South in recent months: Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate. The squadron tracked all four of the storms and sent threat assessments to the military installations in their paths. The 26th OWS coordinates with the National Hurricane Center to make sure their information is accurate and up to date.
"Weather is not a set thing, so things happen when you aren't expecting it to," said Air Force Senior Airman Ashley Morrison, 26th OWS flight weather briefer. "Hurricane Harvey was in the Yucatan when it disappeared, and we thought we were done with it. Later, all of a sudden it started and we didn't think it was going to be as bad as it was. Then two days before it hit the Texas coast, we realized it was going to be a bad one."
With an entire region under their watch, the squadron provides timely and accurate weather information so military assets and personnel are safe from harmful weather.