I’m by no means diminishing the impact Hurricane Sandy is having on the East Coast; New York City actually looks like all the disaster movies that have been made about it. But it felt like Afghanistan decided it needed to change things up a little too. Today started off ‘weird’, as we all said coming into work: the winds were out of an unusual direction, there were clouds in the sky (might not seem like a big deal, but in a place where normal weather is CAVU [clear and visibility unlimited], clouds are a sign of impending doom), and rain in the forecast (no, not hurricane rain; but again, any rain in the desert is a big deal). I was leading the flight, and we briefed and got ready to launch on time with a wary eye on the horizons around us. It was hazy, but it’s been hazy before.
So, sitting in front of the rotary wing passenger/cargo ramp, as we were onloading our pax, clouds of sand started billowing in from the east. I thought it was looking sketchy, but my wingman assured me that it was just dust kicked up by a backhoe that was filling up HESCO barriers. Then the dust got thicker, and methinks “That’s a lot of dust for a little construction”. Sure enough, I could no longer see the line of aircraft only a few hundred feet away, and dash 2 could no longer see ME, sitting little more than 50 feet in front of him. It was our first haboob of the season! Of course, the weather decided to get crappy right when our full load of passengers and their three bags apiece had gotten completely settled; and we had to tell the guys to pick up the trash they had just manhandled on board and get lost.
From there, the weather kept teasing us: it got down to 200 feet visibility at our destination, but clear here; then it was garbage here, and clear at our destination. We finally got clear weather at both locations, ran out to our helicopters, lit off our engines…only to be told by the duty officer that our destination had, again, gone to 200 feet visibility. You can only play the weather game for so long before meeting diminishing returns; feeling our returns were sufficiently diminished, I canceled the mission and had the flight regroup at the chow hall for grilled cheese sandwiches. War is hell.