Heavy rain batters Gulf states, causing flash floods and shuttering Dubai Airport

Gulf flooding: Dubai airport chaos as UAE and Oman reel from deadly storms

Authorities warned that more thunderstorms, heavy rain and strong winds were forecast, with many low-lying areas still under water
Authorities warned that more thunderstorms, heavy rain and strong winds were forecast, with many low-lying areas still under water

Heavy rain has battered the Gulf states and caused flash floods that killed 20 people and disrupted flights at the world’s second-busiest airport, Dubai Airport.

The UAE city’s airport advised passengers not to turn up as runways were inundated with water.

Authorities also warned that more thunderstorms, heavy rain and strong winds were forecast, with many low-lying areas still under water.

The intense storm that began on Tuesday morning and continued through most of the day forced the airport to suspend operations for 25 minutes, divert several inbound planes and cancel a number of inbound and outbound flights. “We are currently experiencing significant disruption due to the weather and are continuously working with our emergency response teams and service partners to restore normal operations as quickly as possible,” it said on X, formerly Twitter.

The rain eased by Tuesday evening, but Dubai International Airport warned that “recovery will take some time”.

Emirates, one of the UAE’s two flag carriers and the world’s largest international airline, told customers that check-in had been suspended at the airport for all flights until 9pm CET.

FlyDubai, Emirates’ low-cost sister airline, said some outbound flights would operate from one terminal after 9pm.

FlyDubi chief executive, Paul Griffiths, told local radio station Dubai Eye: “In living memory, I don’t think anyone has ever seen conditions like it.”

The UAE’s National Emergency Crisis Management Authority did issue a warning before the storm telling people to stay at home. The government also told its employees to work from home and private schools were also advised to carry out remote learning.

The UAE experienced on Tuesday its largest rainfall event since records began 75 years ago. 254.8mm (9.7in) had fallen on Khatm al-Shakla, in the emirate of al-Ain, over less than 24 hours – the country averages just 140-200 mm of rainfall per year, while Dubai typically receives only 97mm. The monthly average for April is only about 8mm.

Dozens of submerged vehicles could be seen a flooded part of Sheikh Zayed Road, as well as long traffic jams elsewhere on the 12-lane highway.

Tourists were warned by hotels that it was unsafe to move away from the hotel to attractions and shopping malls.

Eyewitness reports said public establishments had been flooded, the metro shut down and the taxis not running or picking up in the area. Some tourists stranded inside malls had to sleep in the lobby overnight.

No deaths were reported in Dubai, but an elderly man was killed when his vehicle was swept away in a flash flood in Ras al-Khaimah. In Oman, rescuers found the body of a girl in Saham, bringing the death toll in the country to 19.

In Oman, more than 1,400 people have been evacuated to shelters. Schools and government offices have been closed as a precaution.

Precipitation is scarce in Oman. Annual average rainfall ranges from 150 to 300mm in the north, with most falling in pre- and post-monsoon storms.

There are reports that recent “cloud-seeding” in the skies above the UAE might have contributed the record-breaking event. Cloud-seeding, which is when planes spray clouds with particles of salt to make rain, has been going on in the United Arab Emirates for more than 10 years.

Many factors contribute to flooding, but a warming atmosphere caused by climate change makes extreme rainfall more likely.

The world has already warmed by about 1.1C since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to emissions.