Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi has evacuated some of its T-38 Talon training jets to Florida’s Space Coast as severe weather threatens to batter parts of the South this week.
Dangerous thunderstorms, violent tornadoes and large hail could hit Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, with cities like Columbus and Tupelo, Miss., and Birmingham, Ala., projected to bear the brunt of the storms starting Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
A Columbus AFB spokesperson said T-38s sought safety at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., within the past two days. The base did not provide a specific number of the supersonic training jets that evacuated, and how long they remain in Florida will depend on how Mississippi fares in the storms. T-38s prepare students to fly fighter and bomber planes including the F-15 variants, F-16, F-22, B-1, and the A-10 attack plane.
Columbus is home to the 14th Flying Training Wing, a hub for undergraduate pilot training. The base has paused training operations until it is safe to return. Planes that can be safely housed inside, instead of in outdoor hangars, will remain in Mississippi.
“We are expecting another round of significant severe weather to impact our area the next three days,” the base said on Facebook Wednesday.
It warned residents of tornadoes with gusts measuring at least 111 miles per hour, which could move entire homes off their foundations, remove large sections of a roof, uproot large trees, and toss cars, according to FEMA. The base said hail could be larger than two inches across.
“Now is the time to prepare yourself and your family for the potential effects of these storms. Know where your shelter locations are both at work and at home,” the base said.
The 81st Training Wing at nearby Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Miss., directed questions to the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing on base, which said it is not moving aircraft. A spokesperson for the 908th Airlift Wing, a Reserve wing at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Ala., also said their assets would stay put until further notice.
Though other parts of the region may feel lesser effects of the storms, it isn’t expected to be enough to warrant evacuation. The 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall AFB, Fla.; 53rd Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla.; 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla.; and 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, La., said they are operating as normal.
This spate of spring weather comes after the U.S. faced a record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season and wildfires that prompted military evacuations around the country, as well as a deadly cold snap in the South and Great Plains states earlier this year.
The Air Force is already spending billions of dollars to rebuild from earlier natural disasters such as Hurricane Michael, which heavily damaged Tyndall in 2018, and historic flooding at Offutt AFB, Neb., in 2019.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.