x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A touch of frost gathers on UAE mountains

With temperatures plunging as low as -0.6C in the north, some experts have suggested this week's chilly spell could be a symptom of bigger changes.

Kazakhstan tourist Nursultan Sajanova takes a photo of his bundled mother, Raushan Sajanova at Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
Kazakhstan tourist Nursultan Sajanova takes a photo of his bundled mother, Raushan Sajanova at Souk Madinat Jumeirah.

DUBAI // A dusting of snow on the mountains, cruise ships confined to port by strong winds and a cold snap that has had people delving to the back of wardrobes for long-neglected woollies.

With temperatures plunging as low as -0.6C in the north, some experts have suggested this week's chilly spell could be a symptom of bigger changes. This being the thorny issue of climate change, however, just as many experts are not so sure.

Dr George Odhiambo, assistant professor of geography at United Arab Emirates University, is among those who see a change in the Gulf's seasonal patterns. "There's indications that there have been a lot of shifts in the climate of the region," he said.

"This country never used to experience such extreme conditions as often as it does now. They would occur, but over a much longer duration.

"The reoccurrence of these extreme conditions we are experiencing is becoming much more common as the climate changes."

However, he believes the changes are natural, rather than due to human factors. "This is a natural kind of climate variability," he said.

A senior forecaster at the National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology said temperatures below or close to zero had left a light frost across the mountains of Jebel Jais and on Monday night there had been a light powdery snowfall, although little settled.

Two years ago, the mountains and much of the surrounding area were hit by a heavy snowfall after a similar cold snap. A sudden dip in temperature is "not frequent during winter, but it is happening more", a duty forecaster at the National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology said.

He was reluctant, though, to put individual events down to climate change. "It's impossible to say. There are a lot of variables and data needs to be looked at for many years to determine whether there has been a change.

"For many years the data isn't there. Now the communication over the weather is more modern, so that may be why we're hearing more about it now."

The cold snap is the result of a northwesterly wind, the winter Shamal, that originates in the mountainous areas of Iran and Iraq and is driven down by low pressure in the Emirates.

Temperatures in January normally range between 14C and 28C, but have been known to drop to 8C, according to the website of the Dubai Meterological Office.

Over the past few days, there have been average lows of 14C. Five or six days of rain is common, but it has been known to rain for up to 14 days in January, the Met Office said.

Temperatures are expected to rise by the end of the week, although Dubai Met Office said there was "no significant change" in the outlook for the coming few days.

Dr Odhiambo said that although the cold front had brought some rain, there was probably more to come as the temperatures start to rise.

Dubai Municipality said yesterday a new committee had been established to "scientifically and most effectively" remove excess rainwater from the streets of the city.

Two cruise ships carrying about 4,000 passengers were stranded in Dubai over the weekend amid warnings of high seas.

Both ships were due to leave the emirate on Saturday, but the Costa Favolosa - carrying 2,788 passengers - left Port Rashid only on Sunday evening. The MSC Lirica, carrying 1,293 passengers, set sail on Monday morning.

The National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology in Abu Dhabi has advised against travelling by boat or swimming in the sea owing to onshore and offshore waves that have reached as high as three metres.

"The seas are very rough," a forecaster said. "We have advised people not to travel on the seas until noon on Thursday."

mcroucher@thenational.ae