Asianet NewsableAsianet Newsable

'Cloud seeding, climate change or...': Real reason behind Dubai's historic floods REVEALED

Dubai experienced record-breaking rainfall, sparking debate over cloud seeding's role in extreme weather events, while experts attribute the deluge to a combination of natural weather patterns and exacerbated by climate change.

Cloud seeding, climate change or...': Real reason behind Dubai's historic floods REVEALED snt
First Published Apr 18, 2024, 4:05 PM IST

Dubai, renowned for its towering skyscrapers and bustling thoroughfares, faced turmoil as an exceptional downpour inundated the city this week. The deluge, deemed the most substantial in 75 years, paralyzed the desert metropolis, transforming highways into flooded passages and disrupting operations at its bustling airport.

Dubai witnessed an extraordinary rainfall accumulation of 259.5 millimeters (10.2 inches). According to the state-run WAM news agency, Tuesday's rainfall marked a historic weather phenomenon, surpassing any recorded event since data collection began in 1949. This milestone predates the discovery of crude oil in the energy-rich nation, back when it was known as the Trucial States under British protection.

Following this historic downpour, several reports blamed cloud seeding - a technique that involves the introduction of chemicals or salt particles into the atmosphere to encourage clouds to produce more precipitation - for the catastrophic storms.

Also read: Dubai Floods: Drone footage reveals scores of submerged cars amidst historic rainfall (WATCH)

What is cloud seeding?

Clouds, composed of tiny ice crystals or water droplets, form when atmospheric water vapor cools. Precipitation, such as rain or snow, occurs when these droplets condense and merge with particles like dust, salt, or smoke. This process creates drops or snowflakes, which eventually fall from the cloud.

Cloud seeding, an established weather modification method, involves introducing binding agents into the atmosphere to enhance precipitation. It's commonly deployed in regions facing drought. This can be achieved through ground-based generators or aircraft dispersal.

Meteorologists meticulously monitor clouds before seeding to optimize outcomes and align rainfall with demand.

The Desert Research Institute (DRI), a non-profit based in Nevada, employs silver iodide, a naturally occurring compound they assert is benign, dispersed via burning or aircraft. In the UAE, where cloud seeding has been practiced since the 1990s, CNBC reported the use of a kilogram of salt material components dispersed from specially equipped aircraft. The UAE's National Center of Meteorology (NCM) assured CNBC in March that only natural salts, devoid of harmful chemicals, are utilized in their specialized aircraft.

So, was cloud seeding the reason behind Dubai's historic rainfall?

The NCM, responsible for overseeing cloud-seeding activities in the UAE, issued a statement to various news outlets refuting any involvement in cloud-seeding operations before or during the storm.

Omar Al Yazeedi, the deputy director general of the NCM, said, "We did not engage in any seeding operations during this particular weather event. The essence of cloud seeding lies in targeting clouds at an earlier stage, prior to precipitation. Engaging in seeding activities during a severe thunderstorm scenario would prove futile.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with Khaleej Times, NCM's Dr Ahmed Habib stated that no cloud-seeding missions were undertaken on Tuesday, the day when the UAE experienced torrential rains that disrupted daily life across the country. He clarified that cloud-seeding is not conducted during extreme weather conditions.

“No pilots were dispatched for seeding operations in this period," he told the publication.

Maarten Ambaum, a professor of atmospheric physics and dynamics at the University of Reading, too debunked the cloud seeding theory and told The Guardian that “cloud seeding, certainly in the Emirates, is used for clouds that don’t normally produce rain … You would not normally develop a very severe storm out of that.”

“In the 50s and 60s, people still thought about using cloud seeding to produce these big weather events, or change these big weather events. This [has] long been recognized as just not a realistic possibility," he added.

What role did climate crisis play?

Experts suggest that the significant rainfall was more likely a result of a typical weather system exacerbated by climate change.

Esraa Alnaqbi, a senior forecaster at the NCM, explained that a combination of a low-pressure system in the upper atmosphere and low pressure at the surface acted as a pressure "squeeze" on the air. This compression, heightened by the contrast between warmer ground-level temperatures and colder upper-level temperatures, created the conditions for the potent thunderstorm. Alnaqbi further indicated to Reuters that climate change likely played a role in intensifying the storm.

Climate scientists affirm that the escalation of global temperatures, stemming from human-induced climate change, is driving a rise in extreme weather events worldwide, including occurrences of intense rainfall.

“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,” Dim Coumou, a professor in climate extremes at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, told Reuters.

What really caused record rainfall in Dubai?

NCM's Habib explained that the forceful onset of the depression on Tuesday was attributed to the formation of convective clouds over the UAE. These clouds initiated a chain reaction of weather events, leading to the intense weather conditions experienced.

"Warm, moist air masses originating from the Arabian Sea was flowing towards Oman and the UAE. Concurrently, low-pressure conditions prevailed in the upper atmosphere. Therefore, humidity levels intensified over the UAE, accompanied by surface heating and upper-level cooling. This condensed the actual moisture in that warm air. These combinations of factors resulted in unstable weather conditions," he was quoted as saying in Khaleej Times.

The region experienced more than four weather waves, "with the most intense occurring from late afternoon to late last night, bringing significant rainfall", Habib added.

The weather expert confirmed that the worst had passed, assuring that the country was likely to encounter only light showers as the low-pressure system began to shift eastward.

“We have cloud information over the mountains in the northern parts of the country that will bring little rain only in these areas, far from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This will lead to light to moderate rain there. We are gradually moving towards stable weather starting from tonight (April 17). There are chances of fog formation in the internal parts of the UAE between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi and between Abu Dhabi and Madinat Zayed," Habib said.

Also read: Dubai floods: Dramatic aerial video of torrential rain waters entering city's desert surfaces (WATCH)

Will cloud seeding continue?

Cloud seeding is viewed as a supplementary method to augment natural precipitation in regions where additional rainfall or snow is desired. Areas employing this strategy have observed significant increases in their water resources. The Desert Research Institute (DRI) reports a yearly snowpack augmentation of 10% or more in regions where cloud seeding has been implemented. Additionally, a study conducted in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, resulted in a 14% increase in snowfall.

However, the utility of cloud modification extends beyond mere water augmentation. It has been utilized to mitigate floods, such as when scientists in Indonesia targeted clouds primed for heavy rainfall and redirected precipitation to fall over the ocean instead of on vulnerable communities. In China, substantial government investment in weather manipulation has been directed towards ensuring clear skies and reducing pollution for political events.

Nevertheless, experts emphasize that cloud seeding cannot generate additional water; rather, it encourages existing moisture to precipitate. Consequently, its efficacy is diminished during periods of drought.

“It’s just another tool in the toolbox for water supply,” Mike Eytel, a senior water resource specialist for the Colorado River district, told Yale Environment 360. “It’s not the panacea that some people think it is.”

Latest Videos
Follow Us:
Download App:
  • android
  • ios