x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

UAE weather forecasters blow hot and cold

Forecasters say the climate has taken an unusual twist this year, with cooler, wetter weather not seen for several decades. The question is, what kind of summer can we expect?

Some forecasters say tourists in the UAE will have to cope with a hotter summer than normal. Jaime Puebla / The National
Some forecasters say tourists in the UAE will have to cope with a hotter summer than normal. Jaime Puebla / The National
It is June and that means the official start of summer in the northern hemisphere. But while temperatures are already climbing here, some traditional Emirati forecasters say the country is actually entering a season that better resembles autumn, the season of harvest.
Those forecasters say the climate has taken an unusual twist this year, with cooler, wetter weather not seen for several decades. The question is, what kind of summer can we expect?
For those who follow the Al Drour calendar, the annual seasons follow a different climatic pattern to the traditional winter-spring-summer-autumn cycle, one dictated not by the 12-month standard calendar but by the physical changes they bring and the effects they have on our lives.
A sign a season has begun can come not by marking a day and month, but by the appearance of a specific species of fish in a net, for example.
"The immigration of animals and the movements of the fish and the sea is an indicator to the older generation of when a season has begun," says Juma bin Thaleth, who has been using traditional forecasting methods for more than 20 years.
This year's weather - long periods of heavy rain, intense sandstorms and debilitating fog - has also been noticeably different to previous decades, he says.
"This is a very strange change that we had this year. We had a lot of rain, especially in Liwa and Fujairah, and we believe that is what led to the observed decrease in temperature in the UAE."
Mr bin Thaleth says the country experienced a similar weather pattern in 2008, but that it usually happens once every 30 to 50 years.
"The Middle East has witnessed a huge amount of rain, this is climate change. Alhamdulillah for the good weather, we believe that the Middle East will go back to being green, as the Prophet said.
"Many people in the Gulf have been expecting the dramatic shift because of a saying of Prophet Mohammed which dates back more than 1,400 years: 'The Hour will not begin until the land of the Arabs once again becomes meadows and rivers'."
Under Al Drour system, the next major seasonal change will not take place until mid-August, with the appearance of the star Suhail, or Canopus, and with it the promise of cooler weather ahead.
Instead, June is notable for the appearance of the red star Antares, the heart of the scorpion, which heralds the date harvest.
Some forecasters are predicting a hotter summer than normal.
"This year it was a very rainy year and it is our belief that this means summer will be very hot," says Abdullah Al Shehi, an engineer whose parents cultivate dates and mangoes in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah.
"It rained in May and we think it's not good for the palm trees for it to rain at this time. We believe that it will affect the harvesting of the dates as well. This is what I heard from my ancestors.
"Traditionally speaking when it rains very heavy we think it is not good for the palm but let us be optimistic."
Hamid Habib, a senior specialist forecaster with the National Centre of Metrology and Seismology (NCMS), admits that science sometimes disagrees with traditional forecasting.
Countries in the northern hemisphere generally consider summer to begin on June 22, which would still be autumn according to Al Drour calendar.
"Later this month is when summer begins, now we are transitioning," Mr Habib says.
April and last month saw some of the heaviest rainfall for years. In April, meteorologists recorded a high of 126.4 millimetres of rain in Al Quaa in the eastern part of Abu Dhabi, just 33 per cent lower than the highest ever recorded level of 189.8mm in Rezeen in 2003.
But the heavy and fairly persistent rainfall was not entirely down to Mother Nature. Planes from the NCMS were dispatched to shoot calcium and potassium chloride flares into certain clouds.
These chemical salts expand when water in the air attaches to them, eventually forcing them out of the cloud and on to the ground as rain.
But it is impossible to say, Mr Habib says, whether the heavy rains will have any effect on the summer climate.
"There is no trend," he says. "The atmosphere, it's always changing from season to season. If you have something like heavy rain in winter, or a transitional period, that doesn't necessarily mean there is a trend for the summer."
NCMS statistics show the mean - or average - maximum air temperature for this month is from 33.4°C to 45.5°C. The average humidity is an uncomfortable 48 per cent.
April and May are considered to be two transitional months, known as spring in other countries with more variant weather.
"The weather here goes in cycles and there are big cycles and small ones," Mr Habib says. "In 2003 there was also a lot of rain and then in 2008 there was a lot, this could be a cycle.
"There are smaller cycles too, so we cannot say what will happen every year, it is different.
"But we can say that now the temperatures will be going up slowly and steadily until a peak of about 49°C in July."
Fog and sandstorms caused a lot of disruption across the country over the past few months, not least because many roads came to a standstill.
On one particular Saturday last month, Dubai Police received 4,000 phone calls in a 24-hour period and logged 687 road accidents because of unstable weather.
At the beginning of April, two people were killed and 11 were injured in traffic accidents, flights were grounded or delayed and property and trees were damaged after a heavy sandstorm and winds of up to 50 kph. Hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses also rose.
"My advice for people is to be aware of the heat now. Drink lots of water and do not go in the sun," Mr Habib says. "Also be aware of Ramadan, it will be during a hot period and people should be prepared."
 
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