Since the deluge of rain at the weekend, everybody has been asking the same question: was cloud seeding responsible for the three-day downpour across the UAE?
Simply put, no.
Firstly, the torrential rain was a result of a storm that swept through a large swathe of the region, from Saudi Arabia, into the UAE, Iran, and on to Oman.
And while the UAE was cloud seeding at the time, experts have said the process would never have resulted in the heavy downpours that fell across the country.
But it could have played a minor role. The National explains how.
How does cloud seeding work?
Cloud seeding is simply a method of artificially encouraging a cloud to produce rain. Planes are fitted with special flares that are loaded with salt crystals and fired into convective, or warm, clouds that have an updraft — or rising current of air. The updraft then sucks up the salt crystals into the cloud, and they attract tiny particles of water that collide, becoming heavier and then falling as rain.
How much rain does the process produce?
Many scientists are sceptical as to whether it results in any additional rain at all. One study from the United States’ National Academy of Sciences failed to find statistically significant evidence in favour of it. But it has been used for decades by countries all over the world.
The US military seeded clouds during the Vietnam War, which is believed to have extended the monsoon season by a month. Cloud seeding was also used in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in an attempt to remove radioactive particles from clouds before they reached Moscow.
Austria, China, Australia and the UAE are just some of the countries which now use it routinely. The UAE’s National Centre of Meteorology has said that in hazy conditions there is likely to be a 10 to 15 per cent increase in the rainfall generated by a cloud, while in clearer conditions the increase is about 35 per cent, but more research is needed to determine its true impact.
Was the UAE cloud seeding around the time of the rain?
Yes — a forecaster at the NCM confirmed it carried out cloud seeding missions at the time of the rain.
"Until now we have carried out 17 flights all over the country, most areas of the country, since the start of January," a forecaster told The National on Monday.
Those missions may have had an impact on the amount of rain that fell, the forecaster said, but it is unclear exactly how much as the bureau is still studying that. However, what is clear is that even if the UAE had not carried out the missions, the country would still have seen extreme rainfall at the weekend, she said.
“It was a very strong [system],” she said. “Cloud seeding is part of the process, but mainly it depends on the clouds. How much water is in the cloud. We only help the cloud to increase the amount of rainfall. We don’t produce water.”
On Sunday, a spokesperson from the bureau said outright that it was impossible to link cloud seeding operations with the rain storm.
“We can’t confirm that the large amounts of rain the fell across the country was caused by cloud seeding operations but we try to fire flares into clouds to encourage more rain to fall while the cloud is still inside the country,” they said.
So what caused it?
Most likely climate change.
According to a report by Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF from 2017, in addition to a rise in temperatures in the UAE, climate change could result in a 200 per cent annual increase in rainfall, meaning there will be more flash flooding in the future, not less. And it seems it has already started. Less than half way through January, and the month has already broken the record, making it the wettest January since records began in the UAE.
This week, the country’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, said climate change was to blame for the recent torrential rain spell.
“We haven’t seen such high rain for a very long time. So we do see the weather is changing, the climate is changing,” he said.
Will the bureau be out cloud seeding again this week?
Most probably. A new system is due to sweep in on Tuesday that is expected to result in moderate to heavy rain over northern and eastern areas, according to an NCM forecaster. In other areas, including Abu Dhabi city, rainfall is expected to be light to moderate. “There is a weak chance for Abu Dhabi to have heavy rain,” said the forecaster.