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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Ten cloud-seeding operations since Saturday as rain lashes the country

The National Centre of Meteorology confirms more operations are planned for Sunday

Flares are fired from one of the National Centre of Meteorology's cloud-seeding planes. Courtesy National Centre of Meteorology
Flares are fired from one of the National Centre of Meteorology's cloud-seeding planes. Courtesy National Centre of Meteorology

Cloud-seeding planes are back in the skies over the UAE as rainfall continues to hit the country.

Ten seeding operations have taken place since Saturday and more are expected on Sunday, the National Centre of Meteorology (NCM) confirmed.

235 cloud-seeding operations have been carried out since the start of the year by five cloud-seeding planes, which are based in Al Ain. An individual operation can involve more than one aircraft.

Cloud-seeding is not an exact science, but it involves shooting flares of salt crystals into selected clouds in the hope that it will trigger more rainfall. When convective clouds, or towering clouds, are spotted, the NCM monitors the situation with radar and satellite images. When it is expected that clouds will develop in a few hours, the NCM informs a pilot of the projected position of the cloud as well as the updraft, where they will fire the flares as they should burn there only.

In theory, water vapour then condenses around these salt particles, crystallises to form ice and then falls as rain.

Unstable weather hit the country on Friday and continued through the weekend, with heavy rain lashing many parts of the country, especially in the east. It is expected to last until Monday.

The NCM is still collecting data on how much rain has fallen over the past few days. Rain enhancement operations have largely focused on the mountainous areas in the north-east of the country.

The UAE’s cloud-seeding programme began in the 1990s and seeding planes fly regularly, including when storms hit the country earlier this year and in March last year. Yet it’s hard to prove exactly how much rain the seeding stimulates.

“Cloud-seeding is very complicated, especially when you are trying to compare between years,” said Dr Ahmad Habib of the NCM.

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Read more:

Heads in the clouds: how the UAE hopes to make rain for the good of the world

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According to the NCM, only natural salts and no harmful chemicals are used in the process.

The United Nations has predicted that half the world’s population will be short of water by 2030. The UAE has a very low annual rainfall and groundwater supplies are being depleted. The country launched the Research Programme for Rain Enhancement in 2015 to find new ways to increase rainfall. It offers a yearly US$5 million (Dh18m) grant to be shared by five winning scientific proposals.

The winners of this year’s grant will be announced in January.