Intelligence beyond the storm

  • Published
  • By David R. Hopper
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

As two tropical storms threaten Department of Defense installations along the northern Gulf of Mexico, the 557th Weather Wing uses innovative methods to collect, analyze and exploit weather intelligence.

The intelligence is then distributed to decision makers in the vulnerable areas to minimize damage related to the high winds, heavy rain, and storm surge.

As of this writing, the National Hurricane Center indicated that Tropical Storm Marco is skirting the Louisiana coast, while Hurricane Laura is forecast to build strength in the southern Gulf of Mexico possibly becoming a major hurricane with wind speeds above 110 miles per hour before making landfall along the Louisiana and Texas border. 

Well before the storms make it to this point, the 557th WW provided information about the storms to DoD units, but the strategic analysis doesn’t end with a simple forecast.  The environmental intelligence the wing delivers informs DoD installations of second and possible third tier effects. For example, the main threat from Tropical Storm Marco is heavy rain which will saturate the ground setting the stage for possible significant flooding, downed trees, and power outages from Laura.

“We ensure commanders at all echelons have the information they need to start long range planning, from local preparations to aircraft evacuation planning,” said Col. Michael Marsicek, 2nd Weather Group commander. “The 14 Weather Squadron’s State of the Climate brief from Aug. 7, 2020 indicated the possibility that two separate tropical storms could form in the Gulf in late August. This prediction matches up pretty closely with what we are currently seeing.”

After the devastation at Tyndall AFB, Florida, caused by Hurricane Michael in 2018, the DoD and Air Force took notice. Within the 557th WW, the Operational Weather Squadrons started providing tailored tropical support that would supplement both the National Hurricane Center, and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The 26th Operational Weather Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana produces site specific impact summaries for all DoD installations within the continental United States along the storm’s path. These summaries include expected maximum sustained winds and wind gusts, rainfall amounts in inches, and estimated onset of the event and duration. 

This type of information provides decision makers at all levels crucial lead-time to take precautionary actions. Prior knowledge about flooding significantly impacts preparations for the storms. Actions can be taken to move equipment from flood-prone areas, perhaps even move aircraft out of the affected areas until the storms have passed and damage assessed.

“The 557th WW’s ability to tailor hurricane forecasts enables this Wing to deliver an asymmetric advantage to DoD commanders allowing them to plan operations, protect service members, their families and government assets,” said Col. Patrick Williams, 557th WW Commander.  “Weather drives behavior, and our innovative Airmen understand the impacts a weather threat has on friendly and adversary military operations enough to help predict that behavior.”