Tourists from the UAE are flocking to Oman after the early arrival of the khareef season in the northern city of Salalah.
Khareef, the Arabic for autumn, is also known as monsoon season and normally starts in June.
But this year the constant rolling mist and floating clouds have started early.
From January until the first week of May, about 415,000 tourists from the UAE visited Oman, nearly 60 per cent more than the same period last year, said Khamis Abdulrahman, an official at the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism.
“It started with the winter when the snow stayed longer on the mountains than usual,” Mr Abdulrahman told The National.
“After the snow finally melted, Oman is now seeing Salalah’s khareef starting two months earlier.
“This is why we guess more UAE tourists than normal have visited the sultanate this year.”
The unprecedented amount of snow last winter pulled in thousands of tourists to Jabal Al Akhdar, home to Oman’s tallest mountain at 3,020 metres.
January temperatures in Jabal Al Akhdar's mountain towns were as low as minus 3°C compared to 1°C last year, said Oman's Meteorology Office. The temperatures were the coldest recorded since 2016.
The snow was more than 7cm deep, compared to 2.5cm the year before.
It is cheaper and faster for UAE tourists to fly to Oman than go further afield during winter.
“It is a quick flight from Dubai to Oman and the kids get to play in the snow and jump into lakes in Salalah for a budget of less than Dh15,000 in a week for the whole family,” Khalifa Al Saqri, 46, a father of three from Ras Al Khaimah, told The National.
“It is a bargain compared to flying all the way to Istanbul for five of us.”
Some UAE tourists prefer to drive because many attractions in Salalah and Jabal Al Akhdar are only accessible with a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
“It is only two hours by air from Abu Dhabi to Salalah and just less than an hour to Muscat, but you need a four-wheel drive to get to places you want to be,” said Harish Laxmidas, an Indian national working in Abu Dhabi.
“Another advantage of driving is that you can take up to five members of your family and that will cut the down the travelling costs.”
Mr Laxmidas said the drive from Abu Dhabi to Salalah took about 10 hours, but “was well worth it”.
Omani tour guides and businesses have welcomed the increased number of tourists.
“They are still coming here in Salalah because the khareef has started much earlier than usual,” tour guide Mohammed Al Darei told The National.
“My tour buses are full almost every day with UAE visitors.”
Jabal Al Akhdar has seen a rise in tourist numbers, though the snow has melted with warmer temperatures.
“We had snow until the beginning of April this year in Jabal Al Akhdar and the UAE tourists kept coming,” said Hamood Al Farei, a restaurant owner in the mountain village of Al Aqr. “Normally, the snow stops in mid-February.
“Most restaurants owners, including myself, almost doubled our income this winter compared to last year, just because the snow lasted longer.”
Oman's mountains feature picturesque villages built more than three centuries ago with houses that are still lived in.