Could Cloud Seeding Be Linked to Dubai Floods? Expert Opinions Suggest Otherwise

Could Cloud Seeding Be Linked to Dubai Floods? Expert Opinions Suggest Otherwise

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) experienced extensive flooding on Tuesday due to storms that brought rainfall equal to more than 18 months’ worth in just a brief period. This flooding affected roads and even the international airport situated in the metropolis of Dubai.

Many people on social media were talking a lot about whether cloud seeding, had something to do with the highly unusual rain.

What is cloud seeding?

Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification aimed at enhancing rainfall or snowfall. It is used to change the weather by making clouds ability better at making rain or snow. It works by introducing tiny ice nuclei into specific types of sub-freezing clouds. These particles help snowflakes to start forming. Once cloud seeding is done, the precipitation grows quickly and then falls from the clouds to the ground, adding to the amount of snow on the ground and the water flowing in streams.

In natural cloud formation, cloud droplets require surfaces to condense upon. Within clouds, tiny airborne particles known as condensation nuclei serve as platforms for moisture accumulation.

Cloud seeding involves the deployment of aircraft and ground-based cannons to inject additional particles into clouds, thereby increasing the number of condensation nuclei. This augmentation attracts more moisture, leading to the coalescence of droplets. As these droplets merge and grow in size, they become heavy enough to precipitate as rain or snow upon reaching the Earth’s surface.

Tiny particles like dust and dirt commonly facilitate cloud formation and precipitation by offering surfaces for moisture condensation. Silver iodide has the potential to fulfil a similar role, along with other substances, such as dry ice.

Originating in the 1940s, this method cannot generate water from a clear sky; rather, particles must be introduced into a moisture-laden cloud to induce precipitation or to enhance the amount of precipitation it produces beyond natural levels.

Cloud seeding remains a topic of contention within the meteorological community, primarily due to challenges in demonstrating its efficacy and uncertainties regarding potential negative consequences.

Governments in regions grappling with drought, such as the Western United States and the UAE, have invested in technologies like cloud seeding in the hope of stimulating rainfall.

Approximately 50 countries, including the US, China, Australia, UAE, Germany, India, Malaysia, Russia, and Mexico, employ cloud seeding techniques.

In the United States, for instance, the Bureau of Reclamation allocated $2.4 million last year for cloud seeding initiatives along the heavily utilized Colorado River. Utah recently augmented its seeding budget by tenfold.

China frequently employs cloud seeding for agricultural irrigation purposes. It also utilized this method during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to purportedly maintain clear skies for the duration of the event.

But experts think the heavy rainfall was probably because of climate change.

What occurred in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman?

A severe storm struck Oman initially on Sunday before hitting the UAE on Tuesday, causing power outages and disrupting flights. The heavy rainfall flooded homes, led to traffic congestion, and left people stranded in Dubai.

The UAE experienced its most significant rainfall ever recorded, according to authorities. The state-run WAM news agency described it as an unprecedented weather event, surpassing any recorded since data collection began in 1949, predating the discovery of crude oil in the Gulf country.

By the end of Tuesday, Dubai, home to over three million people, had received more than 142mm (5.59 inches) of rain. This was significantly higher than the usual annual rainfall of about 76mm (3 inches) at Dubai International Airport.

Oman experienced approximately 230mm (9 inches) of rain from Sunday to Wednesday, as reported by authorities. This amount far exceeds the average yearly rainfall of about 100mm (4 inches) in the capital city of Muscat. Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia also saw rainfall during this period.

What led to the speculation attributing cloud seeding to the rainfall in Dubai?

The speculation blaming cloud seeding for the rains in Dubai was fueled by reports from meteorologists at the UAE’s National Centre for Meteorology (NCM), who indicated that six or seven cloud-seeding flights took place in Dubai before the onset of the rains. Flight-tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press news agency revealed that an aircraft associated with the UAE’s cloud-seeding efforts flew around the country on Monday. These reports suggested a potential correlation between the cloud-seeding activities and the subsequent heavy rainfall, leading to speculation among the public and media outlets.

Cloud seeding, which originated in the 1990s, has been a component of the country’s strategy to address water shortages.

Contrary to earlier reports, the National Centre for Meteorology (NCM) stated on Wednesday that cloud seeding occurred on Sunday and Monday, not on Tuesday.

Omar Al Yazeedi, the deputy director-general of the NCM, clarified to the NBC news agency that the organization “did not conduct any seeding operations during this event.”

He explained, “One of the fundamental principles of cloud seeding is that you must target clouds in their early stage before rainfall. If you encounter a severe thunderstorm situation, then it is too late to carry out any seeding operation.”

Rainfall is infrequent in the UAE and other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, which are known for their arid desert climates. During summer, temperatures can rise above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Both the UAE and Oman face challenges with drainage systems that are ill-equipped to handle heavy rainfall, leading to instances of submerged roads during downpours.

Was the torrential rainfall caused by climate change?

Experts and officials have dismissed the idea that cloud seeding caused the torrential rainfall. Ryan Maue, a former chief scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stated, “If that occurred with cloud seeding, they’d have water all the time. You can’t create rain out of thin air per se and get 6 inches [152.4mm] of water.”

Instead, experts suggest that the deluge was likely the result of a typical weather system that was intensified by climate change.

Global warming has led to significantly warmer sea temperatures in the seas surrounding Dubai, accompanied by warm air above, according to Mark Howden, director of The Australian National University’s Institute for Climate, Energy, and Disaster Solutions. This warmer environment increases the potential for evaporation rates and enhances the atmosphere’s capacity to hold moisture, resulting in heavier rainfall events like those recently witnessed in Dubai.

Reports indicate that the intense downpours were caused by a slow-moving storm system that traversed the Arabian Peninsula and reached the Gulf of Oman over several days. This storm system transported ample tropical moisture from near the equator and released it heavily over the region. The storm was predicted days in advance by forecast models.

According to University of Reading meteorology professor Suzanne Gray, significant tropical storms are not uncommon in the Middle East. She referenced a recent study analyzing nearly 100 such events over the southern Arabian Peninsula from 2000 to 2020, with most occurring in March and April. A March 2016 storm deposited 9.4 inches (approximately 240mm) of rainfall in Dubai within a few hours.

Climate scientists assert that the escalation of global temperatures, driven by human-induced climate change, is contributing to the proliferation of extreme weather occurrences worldwide, including heavy rainfall.

According to Dim Coumou, a professor specializing in climate extremes at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the precipitation resulting from thunderstorms, such as those witnessed in the UAE recently, experiences a notable amplification with warming. This phenomenon occurs because convection, characterized by robust updrafts in thunderstorms, intensifies in a warmer climate.