NORFOLK -- As Hurricane Joaquin strengthens in the Atlantic, with its path still unclear, the Navy is preparing its bigger ships to head out to sea within the next 24 hours to ride out the storm in calmer waters.
The service has upgraded "sortie conditions" for its ships from "C" to "B", meaning crews must prepare to be able to depart from port within 24 hours, said Lt. Stephanie Turo, a spokeswoman at Fleet Forces.
Several ships are in the process of departing Thursday, according to a Fleet Forces news release.
"Right now we are looking at most of our large deck ships (to) be sent out to sea," Turo said. That includes carriers and amphibious ships as well as flat-bottom ships like the hospital ship Comfort, which just arrived from a six-month deployment Wednesday night.
Turo said officials are drawing up a list of which ships will be sent out and in what order and monitoring updates to the projected trajectory of the hurricane to determine whether the departures will be necessary.
"We are constantly watching the next projected model to see if it is shifting and making decision according to that," she said.
Meanwhile, the storm is delaying the deployment of three amphibious ships that were slated to depart Saturday to the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf.
Instead, the Kearsarge and Arlington at Norfolk Naval Station and the Oak Hill at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek likely will have to head out to sea early for the storm and then return to load up for deployment after the storm passes, Turo said.