Saudi Arabia, GCC to see more rainfall due to warmer weather, cloud seeding: Experts

With climate change making the region more hot and wet, the Kingdom will have to adapt quickly to make the most of coming rains while avoiding potential

Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
7 min read

As climate change warms the oceans, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries are set to experience bigger and more frequent rainstorms, experts say, while a surging number of cloud-seeding programs will enhance rainfall and boost freshwater reserves in the region.

In recent years, Saudi cities from Jeddah to Dammam have been hit by torrential downpours and thunderstorms and over the past few days, across the Gulf region, countries have experienced severe weather conditions, resulting in fatal floods and significant disturbances.

For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

Floods have been recorded in the UAE, Oman - which has killed at least 16 people, many of them schoolchildren - in Bahrain, and in Kuwait, while Saudi Arabia is also gearing up for continued adverse weather conditions until Wednesday.

People push a car through a flooded street during a rain storm in Dubai. (File photo: Reuters)
People push a car through a flooded street during a rain storm in Dubai. (File photo: Reuters)

According to the director of the climate and water program at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, Mohammed Mahmoud, the reason is simple.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Mahmoud said: “Warmer weather leads to warmer oceans. Much of this is linked to climate change, warming the atmosphere and oceans, especially waters closer to the equator, such as the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Warmer waters are good breeding grounds for storms and extreme weather like the cyclones hitting Africa.”

Further explaining the phenomenon, he said: “This creates more stormy weather and rainfall, especially towards the end of summer as we move into fall. We’ve seen this extreme weather in Oman and the UAE, with heavy rain and storms. Most storms and rainfall in Saudi Arabia have occurred along the Red Sea coast. Even though Saudi Arabia is somewhat removed from the direct effects, rainfall patterns are changing here, too, and we’ve been seeing rain in unexpected areas and times recently.”

He said that warmer waters evaporate faster, injecting more water vapor into the atmosphere that can condense into rain storms when conditions are right. At the same time, climate patterns such as El Nino reinforce warming and wetter weather in parts of the Middle East. Mahmoud said these twin factors can create more precipitation, especially if it’s warmer in certain parts of the world.

Coastal cities see more rain

In Saudi Arabia, cities along the Red Sea coast have seen the highest increase in rainfall in recent years. These coastal cities are more directly exposed to moist air currents from warmer waters.

Mahmoud noted that Riyadh and the other inland areas are more arid and, therefore, less influenced by such patterns.

Making rain where nature can’t

In neighboring UAE, cloud seeding has been undertaken for more than 20 years to squeeze more rainfall out of passing storms. Officials told Al Arabiya English earlier this year that the country plans to carry out around 300 cloud-seeding missions in 2024.

The UAE program has become especially vital as climate change and rapid population growth strain the natural water resources in the arid country, pushing it to rely heavily on energy-intensive desalination plants.

Mahmoud explained that Saudi Arabia has focused its cloud-seeding efforts along its Red Sea coast, where natural conditions lend themselves better to rainfall enhancement. The Kingdom is now looking to scale up its program and cooperate with neighbors such as the UAE, he said.

Cloud seeding uses chemicals such as silver iodide to accelerate the formation of raindrops inside clouds, causing them to fall before the wind can carry them away. Studies have found that this technique can increase rainfall from clouds by as much as 20 percent. However, it only works on clouds that are already heavy with moisture and have the potential to produce rain.

“What makes conditions right for cloud seeding, especially in that part of the world, is when there’s more water vapor,” Mahmoud said. It’s a very humid part of the world, and that means a lot of water vapor in the atmosphere. So, that makes it really prime to introduce the materials used for cloud seeding and capture that water vapor to come down as rain.”

Mahmoud noted that the Red Sea coastal region tends to have higher humidity than inland areas such as Riyadh, providing more decadent clouds to seed. And with climate change expected to increase atmospheric moisture, he observed that the conditions for successful cloud seeding should improve in the future.

Mixed blessing of more rain

While increasing rainfall may help ease pressure on Saudi Arabia’s limited water resources, experts warn that more intense rainstorms can also cause significant flooding in the desert areas that are less adapted to channel large water flows.

“There are always pros and cons, and that’s where programs come in to manage it,” Mahmoud said. “The downside is that independent of rain enhancement or cloud-seeding initiatives, rainfall can potentially trigger flooding, and flooding is more pronounced, ironically, in drier areas.”

He explained that in desert climates like Saudi Arabia, sudden heavy rains quickly overwhelm valleys and flood control systems without dense vegetation and absorbent soils. Bolstering infrastructure will be the key to fully utilizing increased rainfall.

On the plus side, extra rain will help replenish vital groundwater aquifers that Saudi Arabia has long relied on, Mahmoud said. If rainfall can be managed properly, it could reduce the strain on finite underground reservoirs and reliance on energy-hungry desalination plants.

Mahmoud noted that cloud seeding has even greater potential in Saudi Arabia than in the UAE because the latter has a much bigger land area to capture rainfall.

However, investments will be required to build dams and other infrastructure to utilize the increase in rainfall fully.

“But on the positive side, we don’t have many water resources in the country and region. There is a limit to freshwater supply systems these days, with a higher dependence on desal-ination, but with rainfall, there’re a couple of opportunities,” he said.

With climate change making the region warmer and wetter, Saudi Arabia will have to adapt quickly to make the most of coming rains while avoiding potential flooding, Mahmoud said. This will include better storm drainage, flood controls, groundwater recharge systems, and cloud-seeding resources.

Read more:

UAE motorists warned against driving as torrential rain lashes country

UAE to carry out hundreds of cloud-seeding missions in 2024 to tackle water scarcity

Hail pelts down in Saudi Arabia’s Taif disrupting traffic

Top Content Trending