JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- While specific start dates of tornado seasons vary based on region, they can happen at any time, day or night. On the other hand, Hurricane Season recently began on June 1 and will extend to Nov. 30.
Due to catastrophic weather events that took place throughout the past 12 year, including Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence, the Air Force Severe Weather Readiness Assessment team recently developed an action plan for all at-risk installations across the United States.
“We’ve issued a planning directive to all ACC units, which basically puts into place the things they need to plan for, and the posturing actions they need to have done ahead of time,” said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher P. Weggeman, Deputy Commander of Air Combat Command. “Instead of the Hurricane Condition (HURCON) framework that we’ve used for years, we’re proposing a HUR-RY framework, which is a great word, but it’s actually ‘hurricane ready.’ And if you’re in a tornado region, TOR-RY, for ‘tornado ready.’”
To think of a severe weather event as an adversary, indications of warning and the ability to defend are necessary, Weggeman explained.
“I only have two things I can do to these threats,” Weggeman said. “I can retrograde, which is what we call, an evacuation. Or I can defend in place, which is, shelter in place, hunker down, and then I have things that allow me to ride out the storm.”
Upon concluding their analysis, Weggeman said the SWRA team came up with three leverages that can be used to fight the severe weather threat, even though the conventional method of facing the challenge is defensive in nature: planning, posturing, and prioritizing.
“What I want to do is to make sure that we are the best prepared that we can be to combat the severe weather adversary and go back to having the operational mission readiness we need, and to preserve life and limb when it comes to Airmen and their families,” Weggeman said.
When it comes to the planning process, one thing Airmen and service members can do is have exercises with details that are written and rehearsed with exercises.
“We do ROC (rehearsal of concept) drills,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Gerald D. Sullivan, Weather Operations Division chief, ACC A3, Directorate of Air and Space Operations. “And that’s how we make sure that they’re going to execute well. We find the weaknesses in those plans before we have to execute them.”
An installation’s action plan is something that should continuously be worked on, instead of sitting on the shelf and only being pulled out when a hurricane is a day out, Sullivan said.
Sullivan also gave an analogy for preparing a car for an event that simplifies the concept of Hurricane preparedness.
“If you’re going to paint your car, you don’t start on Friday painting your car,” Sullivan said. “You start like Monday. You paint the car on Tuesday or Wednesday, and touch it up on Thursday and then by Saturday, everything is ready to go.”
The posturing process involves senior leaders ensuring Airmen on the frontlines are able to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to severe weather.
“I would say it’s important from a command perspective to know where every base is postured so we can be prepared to help them when and if they need the assistance,” Sullivan said. “In the grand scheme of things, a lot of the strategic level leaders are providing the resources and guidance for what is being done at the tactical level.”
According to Sullivan, it’s essential to ensure wings that need to be postured also have the extra funding needed for spare emergency weather kits before the Hurricanes or tornadoes hit the base.
“We have a lot of competing priorities,” Sullivan said. “We have to figure out which on our list of hundreds of recommendations has the highest payoff, and then follow through on them.”
Installations can also use historical data assess weather threats in the region.
“We have weather historical data that will tell us what are the highest threats for at risk installations based upon, not only where they are physically, but also the mission that’s there,” Weggeman said. “You can prioritize a finite amount of resources and manpower to actually gain better defensive resilience at these installations. And so what we offer everyone is a better planning framework for what you look at and the things that matter in terms of your planning.”
In the Air Force, priorities can changed based on severe weather threats and the time it takes for those threats to reach the base.
“The biggest thing from a weather phenomenon perspective is the time and how much strategic warning do you have for a tornado versus a hurricane,” Weggeman said. “Comparatively, a hurricane is a luxury of time compared to some of these tornadoes which happen late at night and with maybe one to two hours of warning.”
Weggeman and Sullivan both mentioned key things Airmen and families need to keep in mind involve having a heightened sense of awareness during hurricane and tornado seasons, knowing where to find shelter or evacuate and getting access to alerts on a mobile weather app.
“We’ll get better every year at predicting the conditions, but we’ll never be able to predict where specifically a tornado will appear,” Sullivan said. “It’s just not possible with the way the atmosphere works. So everybody just needs to be prepared in those areas and have that go kit. Have a plan. Know where to go. Keep an extra credit card in your car and things like that.”