Dubai flooding wasn't caused by cloud seeding, experts say

Commenters on social media rushed to blame ‘cloud seeding’ for Dubai’s recent catastrophic floods, which saw planes grounded and roads blocked

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - APRIL 17: Two men use an inflatable bed to float above the water as downpour causes heavy flooding in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on April 17, 2024. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Two men use an inflatable bed to float above the water as downpour causes heavy flooding in Dubai. (Anadolu via Getty Images)

Claims that ‘cloud seeding’ for Dubai’s recent catastrophic floods, which saw planes grounded and roads blocked, have been dismissed by experts.

‘Cloud seeding’ is a technique used in dry areas to induce rain, often by spraying chemicals such as silver iodide into clouds from planes or drones. The technology is used in the United Arab Emirates to ensure reservoirs remain full.

Social media commenters were quick to link Dubai’s recent torrential storm to the UAE’s use of cloud seeding technology – but experts have since said it’s extremely unlikely there is a link.

The UAE saw record rainfall with 10 inches of rain falling in less than 24 hours in Al Ain, a city on the UAE-Oman border, according to the national meteorology centre. One person was reported dead in the UAE and 20 in Oman.

That rainfall was the most since records began in 1949, before the UAE was formed in 1971. The UAE lacks much of the needed drainage infrastructure to handle heavy rain, as it typically only ever rains a few times a year.

Flooding trapped residents in traffic, offices and homes. On Thursday, operations at Dubai airport, a major travel hub, were still disrupted after flooding on the runway.

Were there cloud seeding operations before the rain?

According to a specialist from the National Center of Meteorology, Ahmed Habib, cloud seeding planes were dispatched over Al Ain on Monday and Tuesday.

However, another forecaster from the national meteorology centre explained that the cloud seeding operations had not taken place during the severe weather, speaking to Yahoo News.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - APRIL 16: A view of the street after heavy rainfall as adverse weather conditions affect daily life in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on April 15, 2024. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Cloud seeding did not cause the floods in Dubai, experts say. (Getty Images)

Adel Kamal told Yahoo News, "NCM didn't conduct any seeding operations during severe weather. One of the basic principles of cloud seeding is that you have to target clouds in its early stage before it rains, if you have a severe thunderstorm situation then it is too late to conduct any seeding operation.

"We take the safety of our people, pilots and aircraft very seriously, NCM doesn't conduct cloud seeding operations during extreme weather events. NCM is a leader in precipitation enhancement science, and part of our research involves taking measurements and cloud samples to better understand the dynamics and micro physical processes that happen in clouds."

What is cloud seeding?

The UAE frequently conducts cloud seeding operations to increase rainfall. It uses manned aircraft and drones to 'seed' clouds with flares containing chemicals such as potassium chloride, with a goal of raising water levels in reservoirs and aquifers.

Professor Maarten Ambaum, a meteorologist at the University of Reading, who has studied rainfall patterns in the Gulf region, said, “The UAE does have an operational cloud seeding programme to enhance the rainfall in this arid part of the world.

"Cloud seeding, as its name suggests, generally involves spreading fine particles into existing clouds into which conditions of wind, moisture and dust are insufficient to lead to rain."

Could the current storm be linked to cloud seeding?

Professor Ambaum explained that cloud seeding is useful when there isn’t enough moisture to cause rain, but could not be used to create this sort of event.

He said, "There is no technology in existence that can create or even severely modify this kind of rainfall event. Furthermore, no cloud seeding operations have taken place in this area recently. In this particular case, there would have been no benefit to seed these clouds as they were predicted to produce substantial rain anyway."

What did cause the storm?

A particular form of weather system called a ‘mesoscale convective system’ appears to have been behind the floods, Professor Ambaum explained.

Professor Ambaum said: "These storms appear to be the result of a mesoscale convective system – a series of medium-sized thunderstorms caused by massive thunderclouds, formed as heat draws moisture up into the atmosphere.

"These can create large amounts of rain, and when they occur over a wide area and one after another, can lead to seriously heavy downpours. They can rapidly lead to surface water floods, as we have seen in places such as Dubai airport.

"These types of intense rainfall events can be made more extreme due to climate change, as a warmer atmosphere will hold more water vapour. Climate scientists have been warning for many years that such extreme events will become more likely in a warmer climate and, indeed, we see this happening around us now."

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