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Climate crisis, not cloud seeding, behind Dubai flood

Dubai flood


150-250 mm of rain in 24 hours, the Dubai flood is the worst since at least 1949

Normally, Dubai Airport – one of the busiest international airports in the world – rains 94.7 mm in a year. Between 15 and 16 April more than 142 fell in just 24 hours. The track as well as much of the city flooded in a short time, traffic was interrupted, and many homes and businesses were flooded. As damage counting continues and cleaning operations begin, the government announced a comprehensive overhaul of all the country’s infrastructure to adapt to similar incidents, which will become more frequent in the future due to the climate crisis. The Dubai flood was a record-breaking extreme event, unprecedented at least in the last 75 years, that is, since the beginning of the historical series for the Emirates.

Extreme event, but in line with climate science predictions of precipitation intensification and increased frequency of these episodes. Yet this time, as in other recent similar cases, the explanation of the climate crisis does not convince everyone. The culprit someone points the finger at is cloud seeding and cloud seeding operations to have “artificial rain” conducted by the authorities

Dubai flood was not caused by cloud seeding

This explanation, like all conspiracy narratives, is linked to some element of truth. The Emirates is one of the countries that most resort to cloud seeding. Located in one of the driest regions on the planet where rainfall is very low (below 200 mm per year on average), the country has invested heavily in cloud seeding to increase the total amount of rainfall. And he conducted operations of this kind over Dubai in the days leading up to the storm.

But not on the same day. This was explained by Omar Al Yazeedi, deputy director general of NCM, the UAE National Meteorology Centre: “We did not carry out any cloud seeding operations during this particular weather event. The essence of cloud seeding is to target clouds at an earlier stage, before rainfall. Engaging in insemination during a severe storm would prove useless”.

If the explanation continues not to convince many – who prefer to caress an unspecified plot – it is mainly because it is not always clear how cloud seeding works and what is the effect of increased temperatures on precipitation.

Insemination does not create clouds, it can only facilitate the processes that generate rain. It does not create “more rain”, it makes precipitation happen even when the natural conditions of the atmosphere and pressure would not allow it. The techniques used are different, the Emirates uses the dissemination of clouds with particles of natural salts. In any case, the reaction only condenses the moisture that is already present in the atmosphere and does not increase it.

Instead, global warming increases the humidity. For each degree more than the air temperature, the atmosphere can absorb 7% more humidity. This means that higher temperatures result in more potential rain. In a colder climate, the Dubai flood probably would have occurred the same – the territory is desert, flat, promotes surface runoff but does not facilitate runoff at sea – but would have been less intense and devastating. It’s the same dynamic that has led recently to other very destructive extreme events, like the flood in northern Europe in July 2021.

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