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Chaos in Dubai as UAE records heaviest rainfall in 75 years

Chaos ensued in the United Arab Emirates after the country witnessed the heaviest rainfall in 75 years, with some areas recording more than 250 mm (around 10 inches) of precipitation in fewer than 24 hours, the state’s media office said in a statement Wednesday.

The rainfall, which flooded streets, uprooted palm trees and shattered building facades, has never been seen in the Middle Eastern nation since records began in 1949. In the popular tourist destination Dubai, flights were canceled, traffic came to a halt and schools closed.

One-hundred millimeters (nearly 4 inches) of rain fell over the course of just 12 hours on Tuesday, according to weather observations at the airport – around what Dubai usually records in an entire year, according to United Nations data.

The rain fell so heavily and so quickly that some motorists were forced to abandon their vehicles as the floodwater rose and roads turned into rivers.

Extreme rainfall events like this are becoming more common as the atmosphere warms due to human-driven climate change. A warmer atmosphere is able to soak up more moisture like a towel and then ring it out in the form of flooding rainfall.

The weather conditions were associated with a larger storm system traversing the Arabian Peninsula and moving across the Gulf of Oman. This same system is also bringing unusually wet weather to nearby Oman and southeastern Iran.

In Oman, at least 18 were killed in flash floods triggered by heavy rain, the country’s National Committee for Emergency Management said. Casualties included schoolchildren, according to Oman’s state news agency.
A 70-year-old man died after flooding swept away his vehicle in the UAE’s Ras Al-Khaimah, a police statement said on Tuesday.

The rainfall continued to shift east Wednesday, impacting parts of southern Iran and Pakistan, areas that see little rainfall this time of year. Iran’s southernmost city of Chabahar, in the Sistan and Baluchestan province, recorded 130 mm of rain.

People attempting to travel by road into the center of Dubai on Wednesday were trapped on the city’s highway.

“The scary part is that there was nowhere you can go,” said Sofie, a Dubai resident who declined to provide a last name. Sofie ended up stranded outside her home for nearly 12 hours, some of which were spent sleeping in her car as surrounding roads remained submerged.

Some taxi drivers refused to take the commuters any further due to the blocked roads, rendering them stuck on the main artery in Dubai.

Commuters were seen walking across the road through giant puddles, trying to find alternative methods of transportation. Some of those stuck had travelled from abroad to Dubai to attend the World Blockchain Summit, a crypto conference scheduled for early next week.

Airport operations disrupted

Shocking video showed the tarmac of Dubai International Airport – recently crowned the second-busiest airport in the world – underwater as massive aircraft attempt to navigate floodwaters. Large jets looked more like boats moving through the flooded airport as water sprayed in their wake and waves rippled through the deep water.

Disruption to airport operations continued into Wednesday, after the storm had cleared, with access roads blocked by flooding and multiple airlines including flag carrier Emirates reporting flight delays. Budget airline Flydubai canceled all flights until 10 a.m. local time Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Dubai International advised people to “NOT to come to the airport, unless absolutely necessary,” saying flights continue to be delayed and diverted.

Emirates suspended check-in for passengers departing Dubai from 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday until midnight on Thursday due to “operational challengers caused by bad weather and road conditions.”

Video shared on social media showed furniture flying off balconies. In the Dubai Marina, a manmade canal lined with skyscrapers and retail outlets, furniture from nearby restaurants could be seen washed away by strong currents.

Images published in local media showed traffic gridlocked on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, a 16-lane thoroughfare. Luxury cars were seen almost entirely submerged in the Business Bay district that is home to apartment buildings, offices and retail outlets. A Dubai Metro station was flooded with commuters having to wade through ankle-deep water.

Other videos from social media showed water rushing through a major shopping mall and inundating the ground floor of homes.

Madiha Khawaja, a tourist visiting from London with her husband and two children, aged two and four, said she felt “helpless” trying to calm her children amid the chaos.

The rain had disrupted building lifts, including in some of Dubai’s tallest skyscrapers. Khawaja said she spent 45 minutes taking the stairs to her 27th floor apartment in the heart of Dubai to find rest and shelter for her toddlers.

The journey was “grueling,” she said, adding that “upon reaching our apartment with hungry and tired kids, we were met with dry taps, no drinking water, no telephone service, no WiFi connection.”

“The kids were hungry, and I as a mother was getting very anxious and upset,” she told CNN.

An official at the UAE’s National Center of Meteorology was cited by local newspaper The National as saying that the rain was not caused by cloud seeding, putting to rest rumors that the chaos was man-made. CNN has reached out to the center for comment.

The practice is meant to enhance rainfall in arid or semi-arid regions and entails the “seeding” of existing clouds with substances that eventually help the clouds induce rain. The UAE has been cloud-seeding since the 1990s and has been doing it regularly over the past few years.

Like the rest of the Persian Gulf region, Dubai has a hot and dry climate. As such, rainfall is infrequent, and the city’s infrastructure often fails to handle extreme weather events.

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