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Unprecedented Rains Flooded Dubai, UAE

Unprecedented Rains Flooded Dubai, UAE

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NEW DELHI, Apr 17: Desert city-state Dubai experienced an unusual start to the week as heavy thunderstorms lashed the city and parts of the United Arab Emirates, flooding major roadways, airports and the city’s driverless metro rail system.

Media reports on Wednesday said the storms that lashed the UAE on Tuesday dumped over a year and a half’s worth of rain on Dubai. Fujairah is the only emirate that saw more rainfall than Dubai. The emirate on the UAE’s eastern coast, saw the heaviest rainfall Tuesday with 145 millimetres (5.7 inches) falling there.

One person died in Ras al-Khaimah, the country’s northernmost emirate. The police there said one 70-year-old man died when his vehicle was swept away by floodwater.

In neighbouring Oman, a sultanate that rests on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, at least 18 people had been killed in heavy rains in recent days, according to a statement Tuesday from the country’s National Committee for Emergency Management. That includes some 10 schoolchildren swept away in a vehicle with an adult, which saw condolences come into the country from rulers across the region.

Shoppers inside the Mall of the Emirates, one of the largest shopping centres in the world, were amazed to see water gushing down from the ceiling and parts of the ceiling come down due to the incessant rains which is the largest rainfall event for the country in 75 years.

Sharjah City Centre and the Deira City Centre also suffered some damages due to the incessant rains. At the airport, standing water lapped on taxiways as aircraft landed. The airport ended up halting arrivals Tuesday night and passengers struggled to reach terminals through the floodwater covering surrounding roads. Many motorists struggled to tow their vehicles out of the deeper-than-expected water covering some roads. The authorities have sent tanker trucks out into the streets and highways to pump away the water. Water also entered a few homes.

Dubai received more than 142 millimetres of rainfall over a period of 24 hours. The emirate sees 94.7 millimetres of rainfall in an average year, as per data from the Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel and a hub for the long-haul carrier Emirates.

Lightning flashed across the sky, occasionally touching the tip of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. UAE usually does not receive much rain as it is an arid nation in the Arabian Peninsula. Rain occurs only periodically during the cooler winter months. Due to the lack of rain, many roads and other areas lack adequate drainage systems causing flooding. Rain also fell in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Dubai is known for its arid climate and blistering temperatures soaring to as high as 50 degrees Celsius during the summer. The UAE’s water resources are under immense pressure, compounded by its heavy reliance on groundwater sources. To combat this pressing issue, the UAE pioneered innovative solutions, one of which is generating artificial rain through cloud seeding, a form of weather modification aimed at enhancing precipitation.

Cloud seeding is a technique that involves introducing “seeding agents” into clouds to stimulate the condensation process and trigger rainfall. The process begins with weather forecasters at the NCM monitoring atmospheric conditions and identifying suitable clouds for seeding based on precipitation patterns.

The UAE first tested cloud seeding in 1982. By the early 2000s, the Gulf nation’s artificial rain program had been bolstered by collaborative scientific and technical research with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado, USA, Witwatersrand University in South Africa, and NASA.

The UAE’s Rain Enhancement Program (UAEREP), managed by the Emirates’ National Centre of Meteorology (NCM), spearheads the program. The scientists behind this program focused on analysing the physical and chemical characteristics of the UAE’s atmosphere, particularly aerosols and pollutants, and their influence on cloud formation. The aim was to identify an effective agent to stimulate cloud growth and ultimately augment rainfall.

Once conducive clouds are identified, specialised aircraft equipped with hygroscopic flares take to the skies. These flares, mounted on the aircraft’s wings, contain salt material components. Upon reaching the target clouds, the flares are deployed, releasing the seeding agent into the cloud.

The salt particles serve as nuclei around which water droplets condense, eventually growing heavy enough to fall as precipitation in the form of rain. “The NCM has established a national network of 86 automatic weather stations (AWOS) for weather monitoring, six weather radars covering the entire UAE, and one upper air station. The Centre has also created climate databases and assisted in the development of high precision Numerical Weather Predictions and simulation software in the UAE,” the UAEREP’s description of the process reads.

“At present, the NCM operates four Beechcraft King Air C90 aircraft from Al Ain Airport equipped with the latest technologies and devices employed for cloud seeding and atmospheric research.” Despite the potential benefits of cloud seeding, concerns have been raised about its environmental impact and the safety of the seeding agents used. In response, the NCM has taken measures to ensure the safety and sustainability of its operations.

Unlike some other countries’ cloud seeding programs that utilise silver iodide, a crystal-like material that has raised environmental concerns, the UAE’s program refrains from using harmful chemicals. Instead, it employs natural salts as seeding agents. The NCM has developed its own seeding agent known as nano material, consisting of fine salt coated with titanium oxide. This material is currently undergoing trials and experimentation to assess its effectiveness in enhancing precipitation

There have been other concerns over “tinkering” with nature. With the region experiencing exceptional weather conditions like storms and heavy rainfall, causing unprecedented floods, some have warned against meddling with the natural order of things, claiming that the floods are nature’s way of “pushing back.”

(Manas Dasgupta)


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