Beaufort Marines to hurricane season: Bring it on!

BEAUFORT -- The protection of thousands of Marines and billions of dollars worth of airplanes and equipment are a top priority for Beaufort's military installations as they prepare for the start of hurricane season next week.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Mark Hamilton, deputy director of operations for Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, said the base works with state and county emergency management officials year-round to make sure plans dovetail.

"It is very important that our efforts are coordinated so that the information provided to our Marines, sailors and civilian staff is consistent with that from the state and the county during the critical days and hours prior to a significant event," he said.

If a dangerous storm appears to be headed toward Beaufort, Hamilton said there is a plan to get the planes, worth an estimated $1.75 billion, out of harm's way.

"If necessary, MCAS pilots will fly aircraft ... to various military air bases throughout the Southeast, outside the path of the approaching storm," he said. "Non-flying aircraft will be stored in the hangars aboard the air station. The hangars provide some degree of protection from storms; however, they may not be able to prevent potential damage from a major hurricane."

When all its squadrons are at home, the base has 84 F-18s, said public affairs officer Capt. James Jarvis. Each plane is worth about $29 million, he said.

At Parris Island, where the Marine Corps' recruit training base is located, Category 3 or stronger hurricanes will prompt an evacuation, said Lt. Josiah Nicely, base spokesman.

Nicely said recruits would be moved to Alabama and Georgia for about a week. If the depot is damaged or unable to open, Nicely said recruits would be sent to Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia to continue training.

This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its annual hurricane forecast, calling for 12 to 16 named storms and two to five major hurricanes.

Last year, the Atlantic basin produced six hurricanes, three of them major.