The Weather Channel® Spotlights the Impact

  • Published
  • By AFWA Staff Report
  • New "Storm Stories" Special Marks Anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Salutes "Weather Warriors,
Operation Iraqi Freedom began on the morning of March 19, 2003, with precision air strikes on downtown Baghdad. Twenty-four hours later, the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division rolled from Kuwait into Southern Iraq, launching the ground offensive. Yet, an elite group of U.S. airmen had already been infiltrating Iraq for weeks. They are the "Grey Berets," otherwise known as Special Operations Forces Weathermen.

In Iraq, enemy troops were not the only adversaries that coalition forces faced. The weather threatened to derail the coalition military campaign on several harrowing occasions. Therefore, commanders relied on weather warriors, like the Grey Berets, to provide critical information for making life-and-death decisions. This elite group of airmen dropped behind enemy lines prior to the war to collect weather readings and helped to set the stage for the ultimate battle plan.

On March 17, at 8:00 P.M. (ET/PT), The Weather Channel Network will take a behind-the-scenes look at how weather data impacted war planners' operational and strategic choices, and how military meteorologists risked their lives in the war zone, in a special one-hour episode of Storm Stories entitled "Battlefield Iraq: Combating the Weather."

"To successfully anticipate and exploit the weather can mean the difference between victory and defeat," said Captain Joseph T. Benson, United States Air Force (USAF). "The speed and precision of the initial 21-day war against Iraq demonstrates the remarkable technological improvements in military weather forecasting. Combined with extensive networks of observations from hostile areas, we've made great advances since Desert Storm."

"The Weather Channel developed this special episode of Storm Stories to show just how important a factor weather can be in military strategy, and to pay tribute to the highly trained combat weather teams that are an essential part of modern battle planning and operations," said Patrick Scott, President of The Weather Channel Networks.

"Battlefield Iraq: Combating the Weather" first takes viewers inside a meteorological nerve center for the U.S. military at the Air Force's 28th Operational Weather Squadron. This squadron, nicknamed "The Hub," is the primary source of weather forecasts for U.S. commanders in Iraq. The Hub gathers real-time weather data from many sources, including state-of-the-art military satellites that can zoom in on individual sand dunes.

Weather Warriors

Five days prior to the ground invasion of Iraq, Grey Beret Sergeant Charles Rushing crept under the cloak of darkness to Bubiyan Island, just off the Iraqi coastline. His mission was to study fog and surf trends along the shore in preparation for a nighttime helicopter raid and amphibious landing by U.S. and British special forces. Military commanders aimed to seize key Iraqi oil refineries on the Al-Faw Peninsula by surprise.

Rushing returned to Bubiyan Island over the next several nights, narrowly avoiding detection by Iraqi patrol boats. He used pocket-sized weather instruments and transmitted his observations to commanders via an encrypted satellite phone link. The weather intelligence that Rushing provided them would help helicopter pilots navigate extremely hazardous conditions on the night of the raid.

As U.S. and British special forces set out for the fog-enshrouded Iraqi coastline by air and sea, the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division assembled at the northern Kuwaiti border with Iraq. Combat weather forecasters who were attached to the Third Infantry Division, including Major Robert "Dave" Coxwell and Sergeant Julie Moretto, had a responsibility to study the Iraqi terrain firsthand once they crossed the border. These combat weather forecasters had to produce weather analysis specific to localized areas for each mission undertaken by the Third Infantry Division. Also, they had to communicate with The Hub and provide a near continuous stream of weather intelligence from inside Iraq.

Sandstorm and Snow

The ground war commenced on March 20, 2003, and the Third Infantry Division began its furious race through the desert toward Baghdad. Meanwhile, forecasters at The Hub began tracking the development of an enormous storm system over northern Africa. As the storm front swept east across the Mediterranean Sea toward Iraq, forecasters warned the Third Infantry Division to prepare for "the mother of all fronts."

The largest sandstorm to hit southern Iraq in decades engulfed a 300-mile-wide area and blasted tremendous walls of dust into the atmosphere. The fierce storm shredded tents, clogged engines and weapons and burned soldiers' eyes and lungs. Meanwhile, the Saddam Fedayeen, the most fanatical enemy fighters, moved under the cover of the blinding storm to attack the stalled U.S. Army convoys. U.S. ground troops had to engage a seemingly invisible enemy hiding in the swirling clouds of dust.

The same frontal system that pummeled troops in southern Iraq created a different set of weather challenges for U.S. military operations in northern Iraq. Sleet, snow, and heavy cloud cover over Bashur Airfield jeopardized the largest and most daring combat jump since World War Two.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade, comprised of 1,000 paratroopers, flew en route to the mountainous drop zone on the night of March 26, 2003. Captain John Roberts, the chief weather forecaster for the mission, predicted a narrow window of opportunity for parachutists to make their jump. The storm system, he calculated, would break just long enough, and pilots could count on clear visibility as they entered the Zagros mountain range.

Forecasting, however, is an inexact science, and conditions did not appear to be improving at the drop zone as the 173rd Airborne Brigade made its dangerous approach. With fifteen planes in peril, Captain Roberts had to make a final weather call, and all eyes were on him.

Jim Cantore, a veteran field reporter and on-camera meteorologist at The Weather Channel, serves as the program's host. Viewers are encouraged to find out more about this important episode by visiting

For an interview with Storm Stories host Jim Cantore, or with an Armed Forces member serving as a Grey Beret, or to receive a preview tape of "Battlefield Iraq: Combating the Weather," please contact Angela Fisher at 770-226-2897 or Randi Stark at 212-780-1900.


The Weather Channel, a 24-hour weather network, is seen in over 87 million U.S. households. Its Web site,, attracts 20 million unique users per month and is consistently ranked among the Top 15 of all Web sites by Nielsen//NetRatings. The Weather Channel also operates Weatherscan, a 24-hour, all-local weather network distributed to almost 7 million households, The Weather Channel Radio Network, The Weather Channel Newspaper Services and is the leading weather information provider for emerging technologies. This includes broadband and interactive television applications, with wireless weather products accessible through high-speed Internet services, phones, pagers, Palm Pilots, and other personal digital assistants. The Weather Channel is owned by Landmark Communications, Inc., a Norfolk, VA-based, privately held media company.

"Battlefield Iraq: Combating the Weather" is produced for The Weather Channel by Towers Productions, Inc. The Producer is Lance Hori and the Executive Producer for the Storm Stories series is Jonathan Towers.