U.A.E. hit with heaviest rain ever recorded in the country

U.A.E. hit with heaviest rain ever recorded in the country

The desert nation of the United Arab Emirates attempted to dry out Wednesday from the heaviest rain ever recorded there after a deluge flooded out Dubai International Airport, disrupting flights through the world's busiest airfield for international travel.

The state-run WAM news agency called the rain Tuesday "a historic weather event" that surpassed "anything documented since the start of data collection in 1949." 

Rain also fell in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, the rains were acute across the U.A.E.

The rains began late Monday, soaking the sands and roadways of Dubai with some 20 millimetres of rain, according to meteorological data collected at Dubai International Airport.

The storms intensified around 9 a.m. local time Tuesday and continued throughout the day, dumping more rain and hail onto the overwhelmed city.

WATCH | Heavy rains, flash floods sweep through Dubai:

Heavy rains, flash floods sweep through Dubai

19 hours ago

Duration 0:40

The Dubai Police have issued a public safety advisory after heavy storms washed over the city, leaving streets flooded. More unstable weather is expected to continue until Wednesday.

By the end of Tuesday, more than 142 millimetres of rainfall had soaked Dubai over 24 hours. An average year sees 94.7 millimetre of rain at Dubai International Airport, a hub for the long-haul carrier Emirates.

'Cloud seeding'

One reason may have been "cloud seeding," in which small planes operated by the government fly through clouds burning special salt flares. Those flares can increase precipitation.

Several reports quoted meteorologists at the National Centre for Meteorology as saying they flew six or seven cloud-seeding flights before the rains. Flight-tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press showed one aircraft affiliated with the U.A.E.'s cloud-seeding efforts flew around the country on Monday.

The National, an English-language, state-linked newspaper in Abu Dhabi, quoted an anonymous official at the centre on Wednesday as saying no cloud seeding took place on Tuesday, without acknowledging any earlier flights.

The centre did not respond to questions Wednesday from the AP.

The U.A.E., which heavily relies on energy-hungry desalination plants to provide water, conducts cloud seeding in part to increase its dwindling, limited groundwater. Scientists also say climate change in general is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme storms, droughts, floods and wildfires around the world.

A man in a blue t-shirt and grey shorts carries a scooter across a flooded street.
A man carries a scooter across a flooded street on Wednesday following heavy rains in Sharjah, U.A.E. (Ahmed Ramazan/AFP/Getty Images)

At the airport, standing water lapped on taxiways as aircraft landed. Arrivals were halted Tuesday night, and passengers struggled to reach terminals through the floodwater covering surrounding roads.

One couple, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to speak freely in a country with strict laws that criminalize critical speech, called the situation at the airport "absolute carnage."

"You cannot get a taxi. There's people sleeping in the Metro station. There's people sleeping in the airport," the man said Wednesday.

They ended up getting a taxi to near their home some 30 kilometres away, but floodwater on the road stopped them. A bystander helped them over a highway barrier with their carry-on luggage, the bottles of gin they picked up from duty-free clinking away.

People wait at a flight connection desk at Dubai International Airport.
People queue at a flight connection desk on Wednesday after a rainstorm hit Dubai, causing delays at Dubai International Airport. (Reuters)

Dubai International Airport acknowledged Wednesday morning that the flooding had left "limited transportation options" and affected flights, as aircraft crews couldn't reach the airfield.

"Recovery will take some time," the airport said on the social platform X.

Check-ins stopped

Emirates said the airline had halted check-in for passengers departing from Dubai itself from 8 a.m. until midnight local time Wednesday as it tried to clear the airport of transit passengers — many of whom had been sleeping where they could in its cavernous terminals.

Passengers on FlyDubai, Emirates' low-cost sister airline, also faced disruptions.

Paul Griffiths, the airport's CEO, acknowledged continued issues with flooding Wednesday morning, saying every place an aircraft could be safely parked was taken. Some aircraft had been diverted to Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central, the city-state's second airfield.

"It remains an incredibly challenging time. In living memory, I don't think anyone has ever seen conditions like it," Griffiths told the state-owned talk radio station Dubai Eye. "We are in uncharted territory, but I can assure everyone we are working as hard as we possibly can to make sure our customers and staff are looked after."