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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Extreme weather in the UAE: Tales of sun, sand and even snow

If you think it is just endless blue skies you are mistaken

Traffic during a dust storm on Al Qudra Road in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Traffic during a dust storm on Al Qudra Road in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

The UAE is a haven for holidaymakers seeking a break from gloomy skies, central heating and hopping about to avoid puddles. However, residents who have been here a while know that there is more to the climate than Ray-Bans and lathering up with suncream.

Most mornings, when the curtains are drawn back, eyes are greeted with a pale shade of blue which remains until evening. But there are instances, frequent in some parts of the country, where the norm is quite different.

SANDSTORM

Ok, so we don't see sandstorms like the one Tom Cruise was running from in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which was set in Dubai, but we certainly have some dusty days when cars are covered, footprints are left on exposed balconies and visibility is reduced to a couple of hundred metres. Or, in the case below in 2015, a few metres. On awakening that morning, I presumed the orange glow filling the room was a fire somewhere outside the building. How wrong I was.

A post shared by Ian Oxborrow (@ianox82) on

According to UAE Climate Change Risks & Resilience, a report published in March by Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF, an increase in the number of sandstorms amid rising summer temperatures are among the possible effects of climate change on the UAE.

Dubai, 20, March, 2017: Sandstorm severely reducing visibility all across Dubai. ( Satish Kumar / The National ) For Standalone *** Local Caption ***  SK-Sandstorm-20032017-03.jpg
A sandstorm reduces visibility across Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

SNOW

Just because the summer is extremely hot (and it's quite hot during the rest of the year for most of the country) doesn't mean the UAE doesn't experience snow. Simply go to the mountainous areas in winter.

In February, Ras Al Khaimah experienced temperatures below freezing, leading to some people having the kind of fun you should have when it snows. Social media was filled with pictures and video of residents having snowball fights and building snowmen. Such significant snowfall had not been seen since 2009.

A snowman created in Jebal Jais. Screenshot from Twitter

While Jebel Jais and the other high points shuddered in the arctic conditions, t-shirts were the order of the day in Abu Dhabi.

TWISTERS / DUST DEVILS

Right! Left! Right! Left! It was the classic scene in the Hollywood film Twister starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton who get a little too close to the power of nature when out on a drive and have to take drastic action to avoid disaster.

Now, the UAE is a long way from America's Tornado Alley, both figuratively and as the crow flies, but it does get its fair share of what are known as dust devils.

Such a phenomenon was captured as recently as yesterday on the E11 between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, bringing traffic to a crawl as it blew across the highway.

Dust devils form under sunny conditions with a swirling updraft and very rarely reach anywhere near the intensity of a tornado.

RAIN

It doesn't rain here very often. But when it does it is quite a spectacle. None more so in March 2016 when the skies turned a shade so dark it was almost night - at 10am in the morning. What followed became known as 'The Great Storm' with winds reaching 126kph at Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi according to the National Centre of Seismology and Meteorology.

The rain meanwhile left streets flooded, breached apartment windows and doors and brought large parts of the country to a standstill.

Cars are left submerged after the storm hit Dubai.

Flights were cancelled, schools were closed and some took joy in taking their canoes out in areas where they would not imagine using them.

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See more pictures from The Great Storm here

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Flash floods are more prevalent in the mountains and are especially dangerous in the wadis.

This summer it has felt as though Al Ain has experienced an unusually high level of rainfall, but this is not the case according to Mohammed Al Nuaimi, founder of stormcentre.ae, which is based in Al Ain.

“Those summer seasonal rains occur every year during July and August,” he told The National after another downpour.

SUNSHINE / HEAT

Days at the beach, playing in the park and driving around with the roof down - for the majority of the year you can lead an outdoor life, as long as you don't mind getting a little bit sweaty.

In the height of summer however, it is another matter. Temperatures have been pushing 50 degrees for the past couple of months making even a walk from the office to the car feel like a marathon.

Although we complain about the heat, it is generally the first thing we tell people about when they visit from cooler countries, as if it is a tale of survival and something to be proud of.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, 12 MAY 2017. STANDALONE. Enjoying the early morning sunshine on the commonly known Sunset beach next to the Burj Al Arab. A woman walks towards the shade while temperatures reach into the mid 30's. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) ID: None. Journalist: None. Section: National. *** Local Caption ***  AR_1205_Standalone_Beach-03.JPG
People enjoy the early morning sunshine on Sunset Beach next to the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National

Of course, we acclimatise to some extent and find ways to benefit from those toasty days, such as using your car as a makeshift oven to bake cookies. For more on that and other horror stories of summer in the UAE read our brilliant beat the heat article.

FOG

When the fog descends, wrapping itself around the skyscrapers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it creates an opportunity for some jaw-dropping photography, particularly from the higher levels of the towers poking out above the cloud in what becomes almost a parallel world.

Foggy mornings are especially frequent during the UAE winter, and the down side of the picturesque skylines is that it makes for tricky driving conditions.

See more: Eerie but beautiful: The UAE’s changing landscape in winter – in pictures

Fog disrupts our lives this time every year. But what can we do? Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
Fog can lead to some spectacular scenes in Dubai. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo