Tuesday update: Hurlburt Field in Florida announced Tuesday that it will close at 6 p.m. as Hurricane Michael — now strengthened to a Category 2 storm — continued to close in on the Gulf Coast.
All civilian employees and military service members at Hurlburt, except those in mission-essential positions needed to provide essential services, are excused from duty until further notice, the base said in a release.
The 1st Special Operations Wing commander, Col. Michael Conley, said in a Facebook post Tuesday that although conditions do not warrant a mandatory evacuation, personnel have the right to evacuate based on what they feel is best for them and the safety of their family.
The National Hurricane Center on Tuesday warned that Michael could bring a “life-threatening storm surge,” hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall along the coast. The center said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft had recorded maximum sustained winds of nearly 110 miles per hour, with some gusts topping that speed. That puts Michael on the cusp of Category 3 status, which requires sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour.
Eglin Air Force Base said on Facebook that it expects sustained winds of 58 miles per hour to hit around 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, at which point it will close its gates and cease all outside operations. The 96th Test Wing commander will decide on Wednesday when the base will return to normal operations, and reporting times for personnel will be posted online.
MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa said on its Facebook page that it does not expect the storm to greatly affect the base, aside from a slight storm surge Wednesday morning.
The Defense Department posted images online of aircraft such as T-38s from Tyndall Air Force Base, and F-15s from Eglin, evacuating to bases such as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Eglin also evacuated F-35 fighters to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
Original story: Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida on Monday ordered a mandatory evacuation of personnel, as Hurricane Michael continued gathering strength and heading toward the state’s panhandle region.
Tyndall and Hurlburt Field also announced Monday that they will evacuate its aircraft to avoid the storm, as bases in the area watched the storm develop.
Tyndall, near Panama City, first ordered a mandatory evacuation of all civilian and non-mission essential military personnel, effective at 5 p.m. Monday, and later broadened the evacuation order to include all Tyndall-assigned personnel, including those in base housing. All personnel must be evacuated by 3 p.m. Tuesday, the base said in a release.
The National Hurricane Center on Monday said Tropical Storm Michael had reached hurricane status and is approaching the Gulf Coast. It is expected to become a “major hurricane” — or Category 3, which has sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour — by Tuesday evening, according to the center. Michael is expected to make landfall over the panhandle or Big Bend areas of Florida on Wednesday, before moving northeast across the southeast Wednesday night and Thursday, the hurricane center said.
Hurlburt, near Valparaiso, Florida, is not planning a mandatory personnel evacuation now, Col. Michael Conley, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, said in a Facebook post Monday evening. But Hurlburt will only have essential personnel Tuesday, Conley said, and will likely be closed Wednesday, except for residents and emergency personnel.
“My goal is to allow individuals the opportunity to prep for their homes and families for the storm and to keep traffic on the base at a bare minimum so we can prepare the base for the storm,” Conley said.
Nearby Eglin Air Force Base also said that only mission-essential personnel will report for duty on Tuesday to finish hurricane preparation, and provide essential services, and the base will remain mission-essential Wednesday.
Hurlburt said its AC-130J Ghostriders and AC-130U Spooky gunships, MC-130H Combat Talon IIs and PC-12 turboprop passenger and cargo aircraft are being evacuated to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas “out of an abundance of caution,” and will remain there until the potential for bad weather is over. Tyndall’s aircraft will temporarily relocate to several locations, including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
Hurlburt also said it is ready to support relief operations run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local authorities, and international partners. The base said it can provide capabilities such as search and rescue, personnel recovery, airlift of humanitarian supplies, medical care and medical evacuation by air.
Eglin said in a Monday post that the 96th Test Wing commander there expects to post a decision on manning by 4 p.m. local time today, or possibly sometime on Tuesday. Eglin also declared a Hurricane Condition, or HURCON, 3, which means destructive winds are possible within 48 hours.
Tyndall said that Col. Jefferson Hawkins, vice commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, authorized personnel assigned to the base to use government-issued credit cards for expenses related to the evacuation. To qualify for reimbursements, personnel must evacuate at least 100 miles, but no more than 500 miles, away from Tyndall. Personnel who do not have government travel cards can get a cash advance from their finance office with a Defense Department identification card and evacuation orders, Tyndall said.
“It’s important to know that this order applies to all Tyndall assigned military personnel regardless if they live on base or not,” Hawkins said. “People are our most important resource and we’re committed to protecting them.”
This story will continue to be updated as breaking news unfolds.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.