Dubai Flooding: Climate Change?

Published 2024-05-06 17:24:08
Storm in Dubai - Photo by Kent Tupas on Unsplash

Mid-April this year witnessed unprecedented floods in some countries in the Middle East. Climate experts blame global warming rather than cloud seeding as was speculated on various social media platforms.

The United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are usually renowned for their sweltering and dry typically desert climate, but sudden torrential downpours caused widespread flooding, leading to some fatalities and extensive damage.

These Gulf states are still busy repairing flooded highways and damaged buildings. Entire populations were affected as power was disrupted, schools closed, flights disrupted and people were unable to travel to work.

Nearly 2 years of rain in a single day

Mayhem ensued in the desert city of Dubai as rainstorms battered the city, leading to rapidly rising water levels. During this event, which lasted less than 24 hours, the UAE witnessed its most significant rainfall since records began 75 years ago, the start of their recording. Dubai, in particular, received the equivalent of more than a year and a half's worth of rain within that short timeframe.

Researchers have connected the unprecedented rainfall that struck the UAE, Oman and neighbouring Gulf states two weeks ago to climate change. A group of 21 scientists and researchers, part of the World Weather Attribution initiative, concluded that climate change was amplifying extreme rainfall events in these this region - events that typically occur during El Niño years - making them between 10 and 40% more intense than they would have been without global warming.

Damage and Fatalities

There were nineteen fatalities in Oman, including school children trapped on a bus. In the UAE four people lost their lives in the floods.

In response to adverse weather conditions across various provinces, the Omani government granted administrative staff in both public and private sectors a day off. Additionally, remote work was advised for other regions of the Sultanate. Residents were strongly encouraged to evacuate to shelters if they perceived any threat to their safety or were directed to do so by authorities. According to state media, police and military personnel were dispatched to Ash Sharqiyah North, the province hardest hit by the weather, to facilitate the evacuation of citizens from flooded areas.

In Dubai, scenes of abandoned cars on flooded major highways were commonplace. People were trapped in their vehicles and had to be rescued. Schools were closed nationwide, and government employees were encouraged to work remotely, if feasible. While many workers opted to stay home, some braved the conditions. Unfortunately, a few found themselves stranded as their vehicles stalled in unexpectedly deep water on certain roads. Property damage was extensive with many residents facing massive and expensive repairs of their homes. 

Dubai International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, cancelled flights and had thousands of travellers stranded in the airport waiting for flights to resume. Authorities there had the added complication of catering to those scores of passengers stranded in the airport.

Massive Cleanup Operations

Dubai confronted the daunting challenge of clearing its waterlogged roads and restoring flooded homes so people could return home as soon as the bad weather abated.

Dubai International Airport grappled with a backlog of flights, while numerous roads remained submerged in the aftermath of the deluge. There were common scenes of tanker trucks sent by authorities on highways and streets to pump the excess water away.

Most countries in the Middle East need updated drainage systems as existing drainage systems couldn't keep up with the high rainfall level in such a short space of time.

What is cloud seeding?

Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification aimed at increasing rainfall or snowfall. Cloud droplets do not form automatically; they require a surface to adhere to for condensation. Within clouds, there exist minuscule airborne particles known as condensation nuclei, which serve as a surface for moisture to accumulate on. The process of cloud seeding employs aircraft and ground-based cannons to disperse particles into clouds, thereby increasing the number of nuclei and attracting moisture. As these droplets coalesce, they grow heavier and eventually precipitate to the Earth's surface as rain or snow.

Usually, rainfall is a rare occurrence in the UAE and other parts of the Arabian Peninsula known for its arid desert climate. During summer, temperatures can surpass 50 degrees Celsius. Therefore, the unprecedented nature of the heavy rains made people speculate whether this was a man-made disaster through cloud seeding, a practice undertaken in the UAE and surrounding areas, which could have induced the heavy rains.

Despite accusations, a UAE government agency responsible for cloud seeding denied any involvement before the storm. Faced with accusations that spread on social media, the National Center of Meteorology in the United Arab Emirates stated to CNBC that no cloud seeding experiments had been conducted in the days or hours preceding the severe thunderstorms. Climate experts believe that such extreme weather events are most likely related to global warming, although it is difficult to measure precisely the causes.

Reports indicate that the heavy rainfall stemmed from a lingering storm that travelled across the Arabian Peninsula and extended into the Gulf of Oman over multiple days. This storm carried ample tropical moisture from regions near the equator and unleashed it in torrents over the area.

"Rainfall from thunderstorms, like the ones seen in UAE in recent days, sees a particular strong increase with warming. This is because convection, which is the strong updraft in thunderstorms, strengthens in a warmer world," said Dim Coumou, a professor in climate extremes at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Studies suggest that climate change will bring about higher temperatures, increased humidity, and an elevated risk of flooding in the Gulf region in the foreseeable future. Countries like the UAE, lacking adequate drainage infrastructure to manage heavy rainfall, may bear the brunt of these changes.

Possibly the end of projects to extend Dubai on the coast line

It could serve as a definitive halt to those extraordinary (and very costly) projects of artificial islands shaped like palm trees (Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, and Palm Deira) or named "The World" and extending into the Persian Gulf, as they all could even vanish if climate change escalates dramatically.

Both projects have already faced challenges, including environmental concerns, infrastructure issues, and delays. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, there are concerns about their long-term viability in the face of climate change and rising sea levels.

Dubai's Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, emphasised that ensuring the safety of citizens, residents, and visitors remained the top priority.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.

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