Why such rainy, cold weather in the Middle East this spring?

Snowfall in the Saudi region of Tabuk in late March 2019. (SPA)
Updated 16 April 2019
0

Why such rainy, cold weather in the Middle East this spring?

  • Experts say the unusual weather patterns could be a sign of climate change
  • On the bright side, one company has seen a ‘surge’ in sales of winter clothes

DUBAI: Unstable weather conditions across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have left residents and experts wondering why spring in the region has felt more like winter.

From cloud seeding to climate change, a number of reasons have been attributed to the storms, rainfall and lightning that have hit the region this month.

“It’s usually warmer in April. This isn’t familiar weather in this period,” said Dr. Ahmad Habib, a meteorological expert at the National Center of Meteorology in the UAE. “It’s a period of instability for all the region.”

Last month, the Saudi General Authority for Meteorology and Environmental Protection warned of thunderstorms, dust and active winds in the southwestern city of Najran and the western city of Al-Baha.

Citizens and residents were warned of wind and dust limiting visibility, with a chance of rain and clouds in the Tabuk region, including coastal areas.

Climate experts have called the sudden change in weather “exceptional” compared to the last three years of dryness witnessed across MENA. Last week, several parts of Tunisia were hit by snow and torrential rainfall, causing fatalities. Floods and colder temperatures were also felt throughout the Levant.

“This April was exceptional in many countries, like the snow that hit Tunisia … We feel it’s exceptional because the last three years have been three successive dry years in North Africa,” said Dr. Karim Bergaoui, a climate and water-modeling scientist at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.

“It has been a very cold and rainy year, even in Jordan, where there were a lot of floods. This year was exceptionally wet.”

Rainfall and humidity have been high across much of the Middle East, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service.

“The differences we’ve experienced are the result of high-level atmospheric conditions, which have brought predominantly low pressure systems over MENA,” said Dr. Rachael McDonnell, global fellow at the Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska.

“This ensures that rain-bearing weather frontal systems are drawn along this area, so bringing the rain,” she added. “Normally these frontal systems are over northwest Europe, but this year they’re more southerly because the jet stream is further south.”

While Bergaoui called for more analysis, he said climate change could be one of the causes of such unstable weather conditions in the region. “We know from a climatological point of view that the sea surface temperature really affects the convective system (a collection of thunderstorms that act as a system) here, so it might be one of the causes. We need to study the sea surface temperature in the Gulf,” he added.

Dr. Taoufik Ksiksi, associate professor of biology at United Arab Emirates University, said: “We can be sure that when these extreme events become more frequent and more intense, it can be attributed to a change in climate.”

Traffic policemen push a motorcycle through a flooded street during heavy rains in Amman, Jordan, on Feb. 28, 2019. (Reuters)

He added: “We’re using more fossil fuels, and we aren’t relying enough on renewable energy. We’re changing land use from a natural ecosystem to a human-made ecosystem, and we aren’t energy efficient anymore in transportation. There are very good attempts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to change the electricity supply from coal to gas, which is a big step, but we need to do more.”

Ksiksi said: “The weather is unusual in North Africa and West Asia … Such extreme weather events, whether it’s very intense snow or rain, are out of season. You see snow in relatively mild weather periods, and floods, dust storms and colder temperatures in some parts of northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and parts of Syria, all of which are very likely the outcome of this changing climate and increased greenhouse gases.”

He added: “It has to be a common effort. We need to do more because our environmental ecosystems are fragile. We have the resources, scientifically and financially, to do something about it.”

Johnny Bowen of outdoor clothing company Great British Outfitters noted a 26 percent increase in sales of winter clothing in the region during the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period last year.

“Last month, there was a surge in sales of rainproof jackets to the UAE,” he said. “Often, the sales come when people from the UAE are going on holidays where the climate is colder. This year, we’re seeing them buy jumpers and jackets to wear in the UAE … It has been really unusual.”


Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

Updated 39 min 35 sec ago
0

Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

  • The bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen
  • Govt forces detained the bird on suspicion that the attached GPS tracker was a spy device for Houthi militants

SANAA: Griffon vulture Nelson crossed into war-torn Yemen in search of food but ended up in the hands of Yemeni fighters — and temporarily in jail for suspected espionage.
The sand-colored bird came down in the country’s third city of Taiz, an unusual move for a young vulture that can soar for long distances across continents in search of food and moderate weather.
Nelson, approximately two years old, embarked on his journey in September 2018 from Bulgaria, where his wing was tagged and equipped with a satellite transmitter by the Fund for Wild Fauna and Flora (FWFF).
But he seems to have lost his way, eventually coming down into Taiz — under siege by Houthi rebels but controlled by pro-government forces, who mistook Nelson’s satellite transmitter for an espionage device and detained the bird.
Forces loyal to the government believed that the GPS tracker attached to the bird may have been a spy device for the rebels.
Hisham Al-Hoot, who represents the FWFF in Yemen, traveled from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Taiz to plead with local officials to release the helpless animal.
“It took about 12 days to get the bird,” he told AFP.
“The Bulgarian foreign ministry reached out to the Yemeni ambassador, who in turn contacted local officials (in Taiz) and told them to immediately give the organization the vulture.”
Hoot said that the bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen — where the FWFF lost track of the bird.
Nelson was MIA until April 5, when the conservation group received hundreds of messages from Yemenis concerned about the creatures’ welfare.
Today, the locally-famous vulture is being properly fed and getting stronger every day.
“When we first took him, he was in very bad condition,” said Hoot, adding that the bird was underweight.
Smiling, he puts on gloves and carefully handles the majestic creature — blowing it a kiss.
Hoot said the bird will be released in two months when he believed Nelson will have regained his full strength and his wing — broken somewhere during his journey — will have healed.
“We thought at first it would take six months for him to heal, but now we don’t think it will be more than two months,” he said.
Hoot said that Nelson was not able to find any source of sustenance in Yemen.
“They can eat carcasses of dead animals, but now there is no more with the current situation of war.
“This is what forced him to come down and stopped him from completing his journey.”
The four-year conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with millions facing famine.
The war escalated in March 2015 when a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened to bolster the efforts of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Since then, at least 10,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization. Other rights groups estimate the toll could be much higher.