Apr 26, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Dubai deluge was amplified by climate change, study finds

A photo of heavy rain falling as trucks drive into flooded waters.

Vehicles drive on a flooded road during torrential rain in Dubai on April 16. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images

Deadly rains that swamped the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain last week and flooded Dubai in apocalyptic scenes were likely tied in part to climate change, a new study finds.

Why it matters: The new research shows how human-caused climate change is interacting with natural climate cycles to render existing infrastructure inadequate.

Zoom in: The study comes from the World Weather Attribution group, which performs rapid analyses on highly impactful extreme weather and climate events, hunting for any human fingerprints.

  • In this newest, especially quick analysis, researchers from multiple institutions found that an ongoing (albeit weakening) El Niño in the tropical Pacific favored unusually heavy rainfall in the Middle East. In turn, climate change likely intensified the rain.
  • Ocean temperatures off the Arabian Peninsula and across the Indian Ocean were well above average for this time of year, allowing low pressure areas to draw in abundant moisture, and wring it out over land in the form of towering thunderstorms.

By the numbers: Rainfall amounts close to a foot in 24 hours were recorded in parts of the UAE, and about two years' worth of rain fell in Dubai, according to data that was shared with the media.

Yes, but: The research relies on peer-reviewed methodology but was not itself peer reviewed due to the rapid release timeframe.

Between the lines: Typically, these researchers are able to make conclusions on how the likelihood and intensity of an extreme weather event is impacted by climate change.

  • In this case, researchers were hamstrung to an extent, forced to rely on high-resolution modeled data rather than ground-based observations since the countries struck by the storm do not share their weather data.
  • In addition, such destructive rainfall events in such arid regions are extremely rare, leading to a small sample size and increased uncertainty.
  • They did find, however, a tie between El Niño years and extreme rainfall events.
  • Based on the observations, the event was 10-40% more intense than it would have been had it occurred in an El Niño year in a 1.2°C (2.16°F)cooler climate.

What they found: The researchers concluded that human-caused climate change made this extreme rainfall event 10 to 40% heavier than it would have been had it occurred during an El Niño year prior to the Industrial Revolution.

  • Greenhouse gases have added moisture to the atmosphere and warmed the seas worldwide.
  • In addition, they seemed to close the book on the cloud seeding hypothesis, noting that even if seeding was done the day of the storm, it "has no influence on the amount of atmospheric moisture available, which was the main anomalous variable preceding the precipitation event."

The bottom line: This latest attribution study finds climate change did play a role in the deadly deluge, but it contains more caveats than this group's typical research reports.

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