Days into the flooding, muddy water was still lapping at almost 80 flooded buildings at
"In the end, obviously, the waters were just too much. It took over everything we put up," Col.
Though the headquarters of Strategic Command, which plays a central role in detecting and striking at global threats, wasn't damaged, the flooding provided a dramatic example of how climate change poses a national security threat, even as the Trump administration plays down the issue.
It is also a reminder that the kind of weather extremes escalating with climate change aren't limited to the coasts, said retired Rear Adm.
"We're probably do need some walls — but they're probably levees. I would say those are the kinds of walls we need," said Titley, founder of both the
The late-winter floods that have swept over Plains states starting last week — breaching levees, halting Amtrak trains, and killing at least three people — are also the second major inundation in less than a decade to hit the air base outside
It would takes weeks or more for scientists to determine if the Plains flooding, or any weather disaster, was caused or worsened by climate change, which is occurring as emissions from coal, oil and gas alter the atmosphere. But federal agencies and scientists around the world agree that climate change already is making natural disasters more frequent, stronger and longer.
The military has warned in a series of reports under past administrations that climate change is a security threat on many fronts. That includes "through direct impacts on
But Trump has belittled his own government's warnings. During a January cold spell, he tweeted his wish for "a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming!" In response to security warnings on climate change, the Trump administration has allowed a physicist who rejects scientific consensus on manmade climate change to start organizing a
Responding to an AP inquiry, the
Under the Trump administration, unlike in previous administrations, the Pentagon has offered little public comment on climate change as a security threat. The Pentagon's guiding star of defense planning, known as the National Defense Strategy, does not even mention climate change.
That leaves it to former military leaders to raise the alarm about how climate change could affect national security. Retired Brig. Gen.
Military bases are launch platforms and you "can't fight a war unless you've got a place to leave from," said Galloway, a member of the
The current political atmosphere discourages any big efforts building up base defenses against climate change, said Titley, who also served as chief operating officer of the
"The Pentagon is really between a rock and a hard spot here," Titley said.
Earlier heavy flooding at
Sandbagging had held back 2011 floods at the base. The flooding that poured in starting
"It was all hands on deck," Norton said. "All through the night, we worked. It was thousands of people, in total, working to sandbag, move in huge Hesco barriers; a whole host of people clearing equipment out of facilities, moving munitions ... even crews doing things like disconnecting power. It was a massive effort."
More than 30 aircraft were towed to higher ground or flown to other locations. Crews hauled out loads of equipment, engines and tools.
By Saturday, the flood had rolled over a third of the base, swamping more than 1.2 million square feet of buildings.
Though Strategic Command headquarters escaped flooding, it had to cut staff to a minimum as high water blocked roads. The command holds down a range of responsibilities, including global strike capacity, missile defense, nuclear operations and strategic deterrence.
Inundated buildings include the 55th Wing headquarters, the massive Bennie L. Davis Maintenance Facility and a building that houses the 55th Wing's flight simulators.
About 3,000 feet of the base's 11,700-foot runway is submerged.
"The good news is that no one on the base was injured," Norton said. "We know how lucky we are."
"No, it came in from the fields. Miles of corn fields around the base," he said, nudging at the cob underfoot. "It clogs everything: engines, boat motors. It's everywhere."
Knickmeyer and Burns reported from