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Aircraft Fly into Grand Forks Air Force Base to Avoid Severe Weather

(Photo: U.S. Air Force.)
(Photo: U.S. Air Force.)

Grand Forks Air Force Base increased its population by 16 Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker aircrafts and about 100 airmen Tuesday afternoon as severe storms formed over the lower Midwest.

The storms, which on Tuesday threatened bases in Kansas and Nebraska, led to the decision by the Air Force to move the valuable aircrafts, capable of refueling fighter jets midair, to a safer location until the severe weather passes through.

"In the central location of the United States, we have some weather conditions that are precluding a couple of bases that are keeping a couple of bases from performing their Air Force mission," Col. Scott Reed said Tuesday afternoon. "One is McConnell Air Force Base, and that is their refueling mission that they've got going on, and then we also have a couple airplanes coming in from Offutt Air Force Base to perform their mission, which is a reconnaissance mission."

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch extending from Texas into southern Nebraska and a severe thunderstorm watch for large parts of Missouri and southern parts of Illinois.

Hail as large as golf balls hit several places Tuesday in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, NWS said. While severe weather, such as hail and tornados, is an obvious threat to the aircraft, Reed said conditions such as heavy winds, freezing rain and snow can also prohibit crews from completing their missions.

Reed, the vice wing commander of Grand Forks Air Force Base, said the base is offering its services and runway space to allow those crews to complete their missions and prevent damage to the aircraft. In total, they have 12 aircraft from McConnell Air Force Base and four from Offutt Air Force Base.

Grand Forks' location, which used to house KC-135 aircraft until 2010, makes it a vital place to the Air Force during inclement weather, Reed said.

"Being centrally located allows for a lot of bases to divert their aircraft in a central location," he said. "It's a great opportunity for our airmen and our civilian partners here to work on this base and to support our vital Air Force missions that are out there in McConnell and at Offutt and some other bases out there."

Reed said this type of relocation mission is commonplace within the Air Force to protect its assets.

"While it may not necessarily be regular for Grand Forks Air Force Base, all portions of the United States do have weather and every base has contingency plans in place to move their aircraft accordingly," he said. "And they have various plans in place to move those aircraft. So we are support for certain bases, and when those bases have those problems, they come here and we support them."

Reed said the extra personnel and aircraft would be on the base for about a day, or until the weather clears up, and return back to their home base as soon as possible.

--Reuters Media contributed to this report.

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