Why UAE, Saudi Arabia are witnessing unprecedented rainfall and floods

Saudi Arabia is best known for its vast deserts, stunning dunes and scorching heat for the majority of the year. Yet, in a dramatic shift in weather patterns, parts of the country are grappling with extreme floods following an unprecedented spell of heavy rainfall. The kingdom’s capital, Riyadh, witnessed many cars being swept away due to the floods.

Gushing waters transformed the dry Wadis of Saudi Arabia into rivers, resulting in unusual and devastating floods across the region. From its lush southwestern mountains to its vast reddish deserts, the sudden deluge took residents by surprise.

This situation mirrors the recent weather myopia that enveloped neighbouring Dubai and other cities in the UAE, where relentless downpours led to substantial flooding and caused widespread disruption.

Saudi Arabia, a country that receives scanty rainfall throughout the year, found itself dealing with a phenomenon that it was fundamentally unprepared for, both structurally and socially.

Dr Raghu Murtugudde, former faculty at the University of Maryland and IIT Bombay Earth System, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science said, “As we approach the monsoon season, the winds in the upper atmosphere over the Arabian Sea, Peninsular India and the Bay of Bengal begin to blow intermittently from the east to west. These winds are called the Indian Easterly Jet. There are strong winds at the same level from the west towards the east to the north of India and they are called the Westerly Jet.”

“The easterly and westerly jets together have been causing persistent anti-clockwise winds near the surface called anti-cyclones since mid-March. Anti-cyclones have descending winds in their centre, which compress the air and warm it and produce heatwaves over parts of India,” he said.

Experts predict that the recent climate trend in the Middle East could be due to a western disturbance coming from the Mediterranean and also due to an anti-cyclone activity, which was a key factor even during the floods in Dubai.

“A western disturbance from the Mediterranean ran into this anti-cyclone to produce the devastating deluge over Dubai recently. Now, the anti-cyclone that pumped moisture from the warm Arabian Sea into the UAE, is meeting a cyclonic circulation over the Mediterranean and Saudi Arabia to produce very heavy rainfall over parts of Saudi Arabia,” Dr Murtugudde said.

“The warmth due to El Nino has supercharged the jets and produced high moisture that resulted in extreme rain. It is a classic case of natural variability getting a massive boost from El Nino and global warming,” he added.

The floods in Dubai had brought life to a standstill in many areas, disrupting normal activities as authorities urged people to take safety measures and avoid low-lying areas prone to flash floods. Civil defence teams have been working tirelessly, conducting rescue operations and helping residents handle the sudden crisis.

Beyond immediate disruption and potential threats to life, the floods in Saudi Arabia highlight a shift in weather patterns that experts link to broader global climate change. They prompt concerns about the country’s infrastructure preparedness to deal with such extreme weather conditions.

The kingdom’s ability to mitigate such natural disasters is also an area of focus. In a country where the sun beats down tirelessly all year round, it is vital to devise a strategy to combat such sporadic elements of nature.

The experience underlines the urgency of upgrading infrastructural capabilities to cope with an increasingly unstable global climate.

The floods in Saudi Arabia, following closely on the heels of those in Dubai, call for a broader understanding of the region’s changing climate. They also underline the need for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to devise long-term strategies to handle these weather extremes.

Resilience to such challenges is, inevitably, one of the significant tests and responsibilities faced in the age of climate change.

Published By:

Prateek Chakraborty

Published On:

May 3, 2024

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