The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was baked by temperatures of over 50°C (112°F) last month, but after weeks of oppressive heat and drought, the heavens have finally opened — apparently thanks to their army of cloud-seeding drones and aircraft.
The UAE’s National Centre of Meteorology (NCM) recently posted a video of cars driving through a deluge of rain in Ras al Khaimah in the northern part of the country, followed by another rainy day near Al Wagan Airport. Over the past weekend, weather reports were filled with warnings of heavy rain across the country, from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.
On Twitter, the NCM later hinted that much of the unseasonal downpour in the country is due to their multi-million-dollar cloud seeding efforts. The weather bureau also told Gulf News that recent rainy days in the region were attributable to their rain enhancement projects. However, it’s also noteworthy that the UAE has recently experienced an unusual period of unsettled weather.
The issue of water security is set to be one of the UAE’s biggest hurdles this century. The average annual rainfall in the capital Abu Dhabi comes in at just 42 millimeters (1.7 inches) and most of this falls on just a few days in winter. As the climate crisis deepens, much of the Middle East and North Africa bracing for further declines in rainfall and droughts that are longer, deeper, and more frequent.
Clearly aware of this problem, the UAE has been pumping money into multiple rain enhancement projects for decades. According to the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science, the country’s rain enhancement project kicked off in the 1990s along with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US and NASA. Recent years have seen the Gulf state well and truly ramped up its rain enhancement program. In the first 6 months of 2020 alone, the UAE launched 219 cloud seeding operations across the country.
Techniques can vary, but the process generally involves planes fitted with special flares that shoot out silver iodide or other crystalline particles that have a structure similar to ice into clouds. These particles act as the nucleus for the formation of an ice crystal in the atmosphere, like seeds for rain droplets. Another recently developed technique involves flying an electrically-charged drone into a cloud, encouraging tiny water droplets to grow and merge, and eventually fall.
However, not all scientists are convinced that cloud seed is an effective means of simulating rain. Some studies have found that cloud-seeding had little-to-no impact on the amount of rainfall in given reason, while others have found it may have some significant impact on precipitation.
According to the statistics from the UAE, previous seeding operations have led to a 15 to 35 percent increase in rainfall, depending on the amount of sandy dust in the atmosphere. However, when you consider the country's average rainfall is around 42 millimeters (1.7 inches), these statistics don’t sound overly impressive.