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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Remembering the UAE’s Great Storm one year on

The sound of a text message being delivered in the early hours usually signals the arrival of some more unwanted information from a property developer, the announcement of a new offer from Etisalat or news of yet another price reduction at Pottery Barn.

But on March 9, 2016 it was an alert from my daughter’s school saying don’t come in today due to the adverse weather conditions.

A peek out of the window told a different story: dry streets and a fairly typical pale grey early morning sky over the Arabian Gulf.

Closing schools because of the weather forecast in a desert region sounded like some kind of joke. But then I, a British expatriate, have been on the other side of the trust issue when it comes to trying to predict nature at its most forceful.

Turn back the clock to October 15, 1987 and Michael Fish, a TV weatherman, was muttering his most infamous forecast: “Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”

I awoke during that night to the sound of neighbours knocking on our front door pleading to come in as a large oak tree was banging against their windows. The tree eventually fell to the ground, along with about 10 others in our street, making for a scene of destruction and mild local community chaos.

The broader picture saw more than 20 lives claimed in what was regarded as Britain’s worst storm in nearly 300 years as winds reached up to 185kph. More than 15 million trees were felled.

Then there was the Burns’ Day storm in 1990, which blew the roof off my school classroom and saw us set up camp in the library for the rest of the academic year.

Back to more recent times, and one should have known that patience and time would prove whether the Abu Dhabi school closure was justified. The answer arrived at about 11am.

The wind picked up, the sky became an angry colour and dramatic videos were swiftly shared around the country as people dashed for shelter, cars became submerged in flood water and buildings were damaged.

Wind speeds reached 126kph at Al Bateen Airport, according to the National Centre of Seismology and Meteorology. A member of The National’s reporting team was at that location and described a frightening attempt to avoid flying debris.

The following day my daughter’s school was closed again, but by this point nothing should have come as a surprise.

A recent spell of cool, wet weather has again shown us that life in this country isn’t all blue skies and perfect sunsets, but few of us will think that the events of March 9, 2016 could ever happen again.

ioxborrow@thenational.ae

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