With September being in the heart of hurricane season, as well as being National Preparedness Month, Joint Base Langley-Eustis is staying ready for anything Mother Nature may throw its way.
Starting in 2004, September has been recognized as National Preparedness Month, to encourage family and community disaster planning.
“Weather never stops,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Ashley Weatherly, flight chief for the1st Operational Support Squadron Weather Flight. “Mother Nature doesn’t play by the rules and she certainly does not care about our little area of concern.”
According to Weatherly, the area of concern is a 500 nautical mile circle around JBLE. The area is designed to give the weather flight an idea if a hurricane could reach within 72 – 120 hours.
“Our job is to protect property and people,” Weatherly said. “That’s why we issue watches, warnings and advisories because at the end of the day, we don’t want anybody to be harmed and we don’t want any property damaged.”
Ranging from category one to category five, hurricanes have multiple categories ranking the severity of a storm.
“Hurricane categories are based off wind speeds,” Weatherly said. “For a CAT one hurricane, the winds are 64 knots or 74 mph… and a CAT five, you’re talking about an excess of 135 knots or 156 mph.”
According to Weatherly, the difference between category one and five may be drastic, however, category one hurricanes can still cause damage. Smaller hurricanes can cause major flooding and 50 knot winds can knock down tree limbs, kick up debris and even knock down power lines.
As a hurricane approaches the area of concern, the weather flight will begin to inform base leadership with any updates that the weather flight may receive from the National Hurricane Center.
“The max amount of time the leaders want to know about [a hurricane] is 120 hours out,” Weatherly said. “Does Mother Nature always follow that rule? No – but as soon as we see something, we need to be letting senior leadership know so they can prepare and get everybody ready to go.”
According to Weatherly, the purpose of the NHC is to be the one source for all hurricane information. Their mission is to save lives, mitigate property loss, and improve economic efficiency by issuing accurate watches, warnings, forecasts, and analyses of tropical weather.
“If everybody is going to say something slightly different, how do you keep the message clear to the masses?” Weatherly asked. “Whoever you're watching on your TV at home, and if they’re going to talk about hurricanes, you're going to hear them say the National Hurricane Center. “
Not only is the weather flight keeping in contact with leadership around the installation, they are also in constant contact with 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron Emergency Management.
“We can have a great plan, but if we don't know when the storm is going to arrive, we don't know when to start the plan,” said Christopher Born, 633rd CES joint base emergency manager. “Based on what they recommend, and when they recommend we establish what's known as H-hour, that's when we start initiating the actions and our plan.”
H-hour signals the arrival of a minimum of 58 mph winds, or if there's going to be a flood surge of over six feet. For JBLE, preparation for H-hour came on sept. 3, 2019 as the installation began preparing for Hurricane Dorian.
According to Born, within 72 hours of the predicted hurricane arrival the 633rd CES will begin distributing and setting up more than 25,000 sandbags at entryways and vents that may be susceptible to flooding. The 633rd Air Base Wing commander will then decide on whether or not to evacuate JBLE and execute a stop movement as he did for Dorian.
“[A stop movement is] where people are stopped from [permanently changing station] in or PCSing out [of JBLE],” Born said. “We don’t want somebody showing up with their family when a hurricane is hitting.”
As the storm begins to get closer, electrical systems, communication systems and other nonessential systems that may short out or get damaged by the storm will begin shut down. After an installation has made all its final preparations, all that can be done is to wait for the storm to clear.
Weather can be unpredictable, hurricanes can come when they are least expected and like Hurricane Michael, it can start as a category one and turn into a category five in no time at all.
Service members and families are encouraged to have a reliable plan in case of an emergency and stick to it. For more information on how to better prepare for hurricanes please read the 2019 Hurricane season readiness story on https://www.jble.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1914751/2019-hurricane-season-readiness/.