Coalition forces are now caught in one of the most fierce and blinding sandstorms any of us have ever seen. If anyone in the U.S. is familiar with what they're experiencing, it's West Texans. But as one Texas Tech atmospheric science professor tells us, comparing a spring sandstorm in Iraq to a spring sandstorm in West Texas is a little like comparing apples to oranges.
It's no secret the wind and dust can sometimes wreak havoc in West Texas. "Certainly the South Plains and Texas Panhandle is at the bulls eye in North America in terms of sandstorms," says Texas Tech sand and dust storm expert Dr. Tom Gill. But Dr. Gill says West Texans know very little about the intensity of what's happening right now south of Baghdad.
"It's much more intense and extreme in Iraq. That's a truly arid climate in the middle of the desert," says Dr. Gill.
The blinding storm has stopped coalition forces dead in their tracks. NBC's 'embedded' journalist David Bloom summing up the intensity with two simple words. "Oh man."
The storm has been so ferocious it has reduced visibility to under 10 feet in places, meaning soldiers must be even more circumspect as to not mistake friend for foe.
Lubbock resident Ann Foy lived in the Middle East. In Lybia for 7 years and Egypt for three. While her many artifacts conjure up pleasant memories, the sandstorms she experienced are more like nightmares she wishes to forget. "You're totally covered in sand. You can't breath. You stay inside, and if you go outside you cough and choke and lose your breath. Their eyes are likely blistered," says Foy.
Unlike sandstorms that blow through West Texas in a matter of hours, Foy says sandstorms in the Middle East last for days. The Arabic word 'comsine' means 50 straight days and nights of blowing sand. A weather phenomenon common to the Middle East, unheard of in West Texas. Two places on opposite sides of the earth that might share commonality with blowing dust, but our storms and Iraq's storms are starkly incomparable in terms of intensity.
Before their deployment, many of our troops were trained at Fort Bliss in El Paso, which sits in the semi-arid climate of West Texas. They train there because conditions in the southwestern U.S. sort of mirror conditions in Iraq. But of course, right now those soldiers are braving out a sandstorm unlike anything they've ever been through.