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

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.”


From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

Updated 01 June 2020

From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

  • Doors open again after virus lockdown
  • Internal flights resume from Saudi airports

JEDDAH/AMMAN: It began at dawn. As the first light appeared on the horizon and the call to Fajr prayer rang out, Muslims from Riyadh to Madinah and Jeddah to Jerusalem returned to their mosques on Sunday after a two-month break that for many was unbearable.

More than 90,000 mosques throughout Saudi Arabia were deep cleaned and sanitized in preparation for the end of the coronavirus lockdown. Worshippers wore face masks, kept a minimum of two meters apart, brought their own prayer mats and performed the ablution ritual at home.

“My feelings are indescribable. We are so happy. Thank God we are back in His house,” said Abdulrahman, 45, at Al-Rajhi mosque in Riyadh, where worshippers had their temperatures checked before entering.

Television screens inside the mosque displayed written instructions, including the need to maintain a safe distance from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Jerusalem, at 3:30 a.m. thousands crowded outside three gates assigned to be opened to allow Muslims to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque. Young and old, men and women, many with their phone cameras on, chanted religious songs as they waited to return for the first time since the virus lockdown began.

“Those wishing to pray were checked for their temperature and those without a mask were given one by Waqf staff. All were asked to stay a safe distance from each other when they prayed,” Mazen Sinokrot, a member of the Islamic Waqf, told Arab News.

Wasfi Kailani executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque told Arab News that enabling Muslims to pray in large numbers and according to health requirements had gone smoothly.

“People cooperated with the local Muslim authorities and followed the regulations.” The people of Jerusalem had shown a high degree of responsibility, he said.

Israeli police spokesman Miky Rosenfeld told Arab News that extra police units had been  mobilized in the old city of Jerusalem for the reopening of Al-Aqsa. 

“People arrived in the areas scheduled according to health and security guidelines,” he said.

Khaled Abu Arafeh, a former Minister for Jerusalem in the Ismael Haniyeh government in 2006, said people were happy to be able to pray once more at Islam’s third-holiest site.

“It is time to open a new page in cooperation with local institutions and with Jordan to regain all that has been lost over the years,” he told Arab News.

“The Waqf council has done a good job in dealing with the contradictions and pressures that they are under, which is like walking on a knife’s edge as they deal with the occupiers on the one hand and the health situation on the other, while also trying to be responsive to the desires of worshippers.”

Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, commercial flights took to the air again, office staff returned to work and restaurants resumed serving diners as life began a gradual return to normal after the coronavirus lockdown.

Eleven of the Kingdom’s 28 airports opened on Sunday for the first time since March 21. “The progressive and gradual reopening aims at controlling the crowds inside airports because we want to achieve the highest health efficiency,” civil aviation spokesman Ibrahim bin Abdullah Alrwosa told Arab News.

No one without an e-ticket will be allowed into an airport, face masks must be worn and safe distancing observed, and children under 15 may not travel unaccompanied.