Team Offutt cleans up after powerful storm hits base

  • Published
  • By Delanie Stafford
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

Offutt made significant progress in cleanup efforts following a powerful storm that moved through the base June 16 inflicting damage to buildings, trees and aircraft.

“What everybody sees now is not what they would have seen Saturday morning,” said John Golden, 55th Civil Engineer Squadron structures superintendent. “When the sun came up, it was very awe inspiring…on what nature can do.”

Much of the recovery work was accomplished by the 55th CES, who immediately went into 24-hour, 12-hour shifts following the Friday evening storm to provide power for Offutt’s most critical missions and to restore power from downed power lines.

More than 25 CE personnel volunteered to work through the weekend, contributing approximately 1,200 man hours to recovery efforts.

“It was just awesome how people responded because of their dedication to the Air Force and the Air Force mission,” said Douglas Wendt, 55th CES facility systems superintendent.

The airfield was reopened the next day and power was restored to all facilities by Monday morning. By Tuesday, normal flying operations resumed and all roads had been cleared.

"I'm extremely proud of the way the Offutt community pulled together as a team," said Col. Michael Manion, 55th Wing commander. "The response and effort from all of our organizations was nothing less than outstanding."

The National Weather Service confirmed two tornados, an EF1 and an EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, hit the Bellevue area as the storm moved east. The scale rates tornados from EF0 – EF5 based on wind speed. The track of the EF1 tornado, with peak winds of 110 miles-per-hour, is believed to have caused most of the damage to the south side of the base.

Building damage occurred mostly to roofs, siding and flashing. At least 18 buildings and six homes were damaged to include the Offutt Field House, the Aero Club and many of the buildings near the parade grounds. Officials say the number will most likely increase with future building inspections.

The recently renovated baseball fields suffered extensive damage to the bleachers and back stops and fence lines were damaged from flying debris and downed trees.

Eight 55th Wing aircraft received minor damage and six have been returned to mission-capable status. Two are still being assessed, but are expected to rejoin the fleet in the near future. Officials confirmed that the 55th Wing’s combat capability was not affected by the storm.

In total, more than 350 trees were damaged or destroyed across the base and must be removed. That figure doesn’t include the Base Lake or Willow Lakes golf course, which are still being assessed.

While most of the base has been assessed for damage, Golden says personnel should continue to exercise caution.

“There may still be some hanging limbs that we are unaware of,” he said.

Preliminary cleanup and repair costs are expected to range between $7-10 million, which will include numerous roof repairs, tree removal, HVAC repairs, fencing replacement and the associated manpower costs.

The Willow Lakes golf course will remain closed until damaged trees have been removed and the Red, White and Blue Celebration at the Base Lake has been rescheduled for July 8 to allow time for cleanup.

According to historical tornado data from the Midwest Regional Climate Center, which keeps climatology for certain weather phenomena, this is the first time a tornado stronger than an EF0 has come in direct proximity to Offutt since the service began tracking data in 1950. An EF2 rated tornado touched down just north of the base in 1992.