Record Rainfall: A New Climatic Reality for the UAE?

“How do you know how much precipitation that might actually end up falling from that cloud occurred due to the seeding? Or how much would have fallen without the seeding?”

– Daniel Swain, Climate Scientist at UCLA

Monday marked a historic weather event in the United Arab Emirates, beyond anything documented since records began in 1949.

The desert region, typically semi-arid, has experienced the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in the province. Rain began late on Monday, with 0.79 inches recorded according to the meteorological data collected at Dubai International Airport. By the end of Tuesday, this figure had skyrocketed to 5.59 inches of rainfall over 24 hours, soaking the city of Dubai—a volume higher than what the city typically receives in an average year, all occurring within a few hours.

Paul Griffiths, the CEO of Dubai Airport, acknowledged the disruption caused by the deluge at the world’s busiest airfield for international travel. He described this weather event as leading to ‘challenging times’ for the airport and its staff, as this intense rainfall across the UAE has led the province into unchartered territory.

All operations at Dubai Airport were halted for 25 minutes on Tuesday afternoon as floodwaters overwhelmed surrounding roads and runways, making it unsafe for flights to land. Some aircraft were diverted to Al Maktoum International Airport at the Dubai World Central, which is the city’s second airfield and gradually expanding to become the largest civilian airport in the world.

Was this Historic Rainfall a Product of Cloud Seeding?

The cause of this weather anomaly is speculated to have been caused by cloud seeding, a method frequently used in the country to increase precipitation in areas unaccustomed to consistent rainfall. According to the Desert Research Institute, this process involves introducing tiny particles called nuclei into the atmosphere, which help water condense. Planes operated by the government deploy special salt flares to burn in the clouds during this process, helping to induce precipitation. Meteorologists at the National Center for Meteorology reported conducting around six cloud-seeding flights on the Sunday before the rainfall began. However, whether these operations occurred remains unconfirmed. Flight tracking data has indicated that an aircraft associated with the UAE’s cloud seeding efforts was active over the country on Sunday.

Or, Could Climate Change Be the Real Culprit?

Contrary to this theory, meteorologists and scientists worldwide have suggested that the deluge was not caused by cloud seeding but was instead a consequence of climate change. Keff Hamsters, a meteorologist for Yale Climate Connections, stated that the rainfall event could be attributed to the general increase in extreme weather events—such as storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires—caused by climate change.

Similarly, climate scientist Daniel Swain from UCLA, said that climate change likely played a more significant role than cloud seeding in this particular storm, as warmer temperatures increase evaporation and can lead to more intense storms.

How Inadequate Planning Exacerbated the Crisis

Furthermore, urban planning issues contributed to the catastrophic flooding. The soil in semi-arid regions like the UAE is not well-suited to quickly absorb water, which means that even moderate rainfall is sufficient to cause flooding. Meteorologist Ryan Maue, former Chief Scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has asserted that the storm was ‘certainly’ not due to cloud seeding.

Instead, he pointed out that the risk of flash flooding, while possible almost everywhere on Earth, is often overlooked in urban planning and infrastructure decisions. He went on to emphasise that such extreme weather events should highlight the importance of resilience measures- or rather the fact that it should be standard operating procedure to integrate these measures into urban planning.

In Conclusion

The unprecedented rainfall in Dubai has highlighted several critical issues that demand attention. First, the potential role of cloud seeding in exacerbating this weather event, while debated, underscores the need for careful consideration in the deployment of such technologies. Experts remain divided on whether the intense precipitation was a result of artificial intervention or a natural consequence of climate change. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the increasingly volatile and unpredictable weather patterns the world is facing as global temperatures continue to rise.

A Global Warning: Learning from the UAE’s Crisis to Aid Climate Vulnerable Nations

As global temperatures continue to rise, the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events will only increase. The UAE, a developed urban centre, is facing extreme challenges and has shown that urban planning needs to incorporate more robust resilience measures.

This raises a critical question: what about less developed countries which have been experiencing the impacts of climate change for years? These nations often lack the resources to implement comprehensive resilience strategies. For more insights into how these vulnerabilities affect various countries globally, read here: 10 Countries at Risk from Climate Disaster.

©Lawrence Power 2024

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