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How a sandstorm helped the coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq

Friday, March 25th 2022, 12:30 am - On this day in weather history, a low-pressure system caused a sandstorm during the Iraq War.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.


On Mar. 25, 2003, a low-pressure system dragged sand and dust from the Saudi Arabian and Egyptian deserts to Iraq. This was five days after the 2003 invasion of Iraq (the first stage of the Iraq War) had begun.

General Tommy Franks led the mission and attributes the sandstorm as a key event in the Iraq war.

The sandstorm was predicted, but the severity was not. The sky suddenly turned a reddish-brown as thick dust and sand took over southern Iraq. There were 170,000 coalition troops in the area.

Low Pressure System over the Middle East on March 26 Low Pressure System over the Middle East on March 26, 2003. Courtesy of NASA

Visibility quickly reduced to 10 meters or less. And when it rained, the dust in the air turned to mud.

On the ground, the infantry units continued with their mission during breaks in the sandstorm. The teams were able to identify the exact GPS coordinates of the enemy armour and artillery.

Iraqi Sandstorm Iraqi sandstorm. Courtesy of Wikipedia

But the sandstorm worsened and the mission had to come to a halt. Commander Gene Renuart approached Franks and suggested that they take advantage of the poor weather conditions, namely "destroy the Republican Guard formations."

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The enemy hadn't moved in 16 hours, so it was an opportune moment to strike. And though ground artillery couldn't be mobilized, planes were able to fly over the sand and deliver precision-guided bombs through the zero-visibility weather.

Baghdad, Iraq Baghdad, Iraq. Courtesy of NOAA

The "kill zone" stretched from Al Kut in the Tigris Valley to the Karbala gap. As the sand continued, the enemies were being destroyed.

The bombardment lasted from the night of Mar. 25 to the morning of Mar. 27. It wasn't widely covered by the media because there were no correspondents in the cockpits of the strike planes or the targeting areas in the air operations centre.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq lasted from Mar. 20 to May 1, 2003. There were approximately 30,000 Iraqi combatant fatalities, 7,269 Iraqi civilian fatalities, and 238 coalition fatalities.

To learn more about the sandstorm during the 2003 Iraq War, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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Thumbnail: Iraqi sandstorm. Courtesy of Wikipedia

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