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Sentinels of the Gulf

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- The 26th Operational Weather Squadron (26 OWS) operates day and night to track the weather and watch for possible weather threats in their Area of Responsibility (AOR) at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.

They provide support for the Southeast region of the U.S., which includes 13 states and 151 military installations.

“Prepare, provide, protect,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Kehoe, 26th OWS commander. “We prepare our Airmen to go anywhere in the world and support Air Force and Army operations, which are thirty-hour airfield forecasts, as well as weather watches, warnings, and advisories, and we protect people and military assets in our AOR.”

Their AOR contains the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri. That includes not only a geographical hurricane area, but parts of Tornado Alley as well, along with winterstorms in the Midwest. While the 26th OWS only write forecasts for the Southeast, they also keep watch on weather happenings in Central America and the Caribbean so they can monitor developments.

While the squadron sends weather forecasts and warnings to all required military instillations in the Southeast, they can also provide specialized weather briefs and can brief an instillation commander when high threat situations, such as hurricanes, are expected to occur.

“We give our recommendations and weather forecasts to each base, and then it’s the discretion of the installation commander on what to do,” said Master Sgt. Michael Norris, 26th OWS NCO In Charge of theater weather operations. “We give them the intel, they make the decision.”

During the past couple of months there have been four hurricanes in the Southern U.S., which included Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate. Even though the squadron is located on Barksdale, they tracked all four of the storms and sent threat assessments to the military installations in the storm’s path. The 26th OWS coordinates with the National Hurricane Center to make sure their information is accurate and up to date.

“Weather is not a set thing, so things happen when you aren’t expecting it to,” said Senior Airman Ashley Morrison, 26th OWS flight weather briefer. “Hurricane Harvey was in the Yucatan when it disappeared and we thought we were done with it. Later, all of a sudden it started and we didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. Then two days before it hit the Texas coast we realized it was going to be a bad one.”

With an entire region under their watch, the squadron garner the responsibility of providing timely and accurate weather information to insure military assets and personnel are safe from harmful weather.