Could Cloud Seeding Be To Blame For The Dubai Floods?

Written by Poppy Stringer
June 12, 2024
4 min read

Last week, Dubai’s typically hot and dry climate was disrupted as the city experienced torrential storms and record-breaking rainfall and social media is awash with conspiracy theories about the reasons behind the floods. 

Whilst heavy rainfall is nothing out of the ordinary for us Brits, Dubai sees rainfall very infrequently with about 3.7 inches of rain accumulating in an average year (to compare that to London, we experience about 23 inches of precipitation a year). Therefore, the city is not equipped to deal with storms lacking a basic stormwater management system meaning that the city floods extremely easily and quickly and this proved to be devastating for its citizens last week.

Not only was everyone's daily life brought to a complete standstill as the streets and even people's homes flooded but at least four people have been reported dead due to this extreme weather. 

But what is to blame for this? 

Is cloud seeding to blame? 

Let's first start by discussing what cloud seeding is. Cloud seeding is a type of weather modification or geo-engineering that aims to change the amount of rainfall from the clouds, typically used in more arid climates to help combat issues such as drought. 

The process involves shooting silver iodide rods into the clouds which causes the water droplets in the clouds to cluster together, making precipitation more likely. This operation has proven to be very successful, particularly in the United States and China whose governments have both invested huge sums of money into inducing rainfall in their more barren areas (you may remember the stories of clear skies for the Olympics of 2022).

The UAE, including Dubai, has also been utilising cloud seeding since the 1990s to boost rainfall, operating nearly 300 cloud seeding missions a year to address water scarcity. 

Is this technique to blame for the floods in mid-April? 

Whilst it seems possible that cloud seeding could have easily led to the freak storm Dubai experienced last week, as after all it intends to induce rainfall, experts have ruled it out as a possibility. 

The sheer size of the storm and the amount of rainfall rule out cloud seeding entirely. The city received an entire year's worth of rainfall within just a few days, a volume that surpasses what cloud seeding alone could generate. This indicates that even if cloud seeding occurred, the intense rainfall was predominantly a natural occurrence, as cloud seeding relies on existing moisture in the clouds to be effective. This is reinforced by the fact that unusually large clouds were picked up by weather-predicting computer models a couple of days before the storms.

Is climate change responsible for this severe weather instead? 

In short, yes. This unusual torrential rainfall was likely caused by climate change. 

The surge in average global temperatures, now at a 1.3-degree Celsius rise, has caused the waters of the Persian Gulf to become unusually warm. Such warm waters tend to energise storm formation, as increased evaporation occurs due to the heat. The warm air above the ocean then traps this evaporated moisture, forming expansive clouds. As these clouds travel across the sea they gather even more moisture, heightening their potential for heavy rainfall, therefore contributing to the formation of large tropical storms. 

There is also a phenomenon known as El Niño which is used to describe the abnormal warming of the sea's surface in the central and eastern areas of the Pacific Ocean. During El Niño events, the usual westward-blowing trade winds weaken or even reverse direction, allowing warm surface waters to spread eastward across the Pacific Ocean. It typically occurs every two to seven years and can cause changes in the regular precipitation patterns resulting in various weather anomalies or extreme weather events. 

Scientists suggest the typical effects of El Niño combined with the rise in global temperatures caused the flooding as a storm travelled across the Persian Gulf towards Oman and then the UAE.

Whilst tropical storms are a natural occurrence (and can be exacerbated by El Niñ0), global warming is exacerbating the impacts of these weather events making them more frequent, more intense and more devastating. Therefore, the urgency to slow climate change cannot be overstated. 

This blog has ruled out cloud seeding as a factor in the Dubai floods, instead highlighting the escalating impacts of climate change and global warming. The time to act is now as the well-being of both current and future generations is dependent on our commitment to a sustainable and climate-conscious future. 

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Written by Poppy Stringer
June 12, 2024
4 min read