HomeEconomynewsDubai Submerged: City Hit with Catastrophic Flooding After Deluge of Two Years'...

Dubai Submerged: City Hit with Catastrophic Flooding After Deluge of Two Years’ Rain in a Day


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Dubai, one of the most glamorous and modern cities in the world, was brought to a standstill on Tuesday as a shocking amount of rainfall pummeled the desert metropolis. Over a half foot of rain – a staggering 6.26 inches – was recorded between 10 p.m. Monday and 10 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Dubai Meteorological Office. To put that into perspective, Dubai receives just 3.12 inches of rain per year on average. This means that roughly two years’ worth of precipitation crashed down on the city in a mere 24 hour period.  

The flooding was so severe that all inbound flights were temporarily diverted from the major international transit hub of Dubai International Airport for several hours Tuesday evening due to “exceptional weather conditions,” airport officials stated. All departures were able to continue without disruption. Roads quickly became submerged, vehicles were abandoned in the rapidly rising waters, and residents were forced to seek shelter on higher ground as the torrential downpour transformed Dubai into a modern-day Venetian maze of canals and waterways where towering skyscrapers seemed to be rising from an urban lake.

“It was nearly apocalyptic – floods were gushing through the streets like raging rivers,” exclaimed Khalid Al Mehrezi, a Dubai resident who captured dramatic video footage of the inundation. “In over 30 years living here, I’ve never witnessed anything like this. The infrastructure was simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of water rushing in. Drains were overflowing, sewers were backing up, it was an absolute mess.” 

Climate scientists have long warned that human-caused global warming is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events as the heating atmosphere is able to hold more moisture. The U.S. government’s most recent National Climate Assessment confirmed that climate change is amplifying these deluges, causing situations precisely like what occurred in Dubai where infrastructures are pushed beyond their limits.

“What happened in Dubai is a prime example of the new reality cities across the world can expect to face as global temperatures continue rising,” said Dr. Karim Bouchetam, director of the Rainwater Research Centre at the University of Dubai. “Existing drainage systems and flood protocols are being pushed to the breaking point by these intense cloudbursts that can drain an entire year or more of rainfall in one single day. It’s a devastating scenario that no metropolis is properly prepared for.”

Even in Dubai where annual rainfall is very low, the November to March rainy season still accounts for over 92% of the yearly precipitation. So while any given month like April only sees about 0.13 inches of rain on average, the city is still accustomed to dealing with some level of wet weather for almost half the year. Yet nothing could have prepared Dubai for a water world of this magnitude all at once.

The floods came on so quickly and intensely, it was impossible for the city to handle it all,” said Civil Defense Force captain Obaid Khamis, who was leading emergency response efforts. “Our storm drains, sewers and other flood control measures are designed to handle maybe two or three inches of rain slowly over a week or two. But when you have two years crammed into one day, that’s an overload of biblical proportions that no urban planning can really prepare for.”

Schools, businesses and government offices were all shuttered across Dubai on Tuesday, with students and workers instructed to stay home as the waters rose and roads became impassable. Countless residents were stranded at work or school overnight as the flooding made travel too dangerous or impossible.  Rescue crews worked around the clock, deploying boats and trucks to evacuate people trapped by the rapidly rising surge. Dozens of collapsed buildings, road washouts and downed power lines were reported across the city.

“There was no way I could make it home from my office,” said Amira Fakhri, an accountant who spent the night riding out the storm in her downtown Dubai workplace. “Roads were turned into raging rivers, the underpasses were submerged culverts, it was a full-blown emergency situation. We were all glued to the TV and internet watching in disbelief as the flooding overtook the city.”

While Dubai and the United Arab Emirates in general are relatively hot and dry desert climates that don’t receive a ton of annual rainfall, this shocking extreme weather event underscores how climate change is upending long-standing meteorological norms across the planet. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes and flooding rains are all being turbocharged by human-induced warming of the atmosphere and oceans from rising greenhouse gas emissions.  

“A two-day deluge like this in the UAE was basically unheard of before – it’s a worst case scenario on steroids, likely turbocharged by climate change,” said Dr. Sara Mounir, a climate researcher at the Dubai Environmental Research Institute. “And this is just a glimpse of the new, harsher reality facing every nation due to global warming, even desert regions like ours. These unprecedented downpours are going to keep happening with increased frequency and get even more intense unless we rapidly work to reduce carbon emissions and slow the overall rate of climate change that is fueling weather extremes like this one.”

While Dubai was already pumping millions into upgrading its drainage and flood control infrastructure in recent years, clearly even more will need to be done to prepare for eventualities like the catastrophic flooding event on April 16th. As climate change continues driving more erratic weather events, it’s apparent that cities across the Middle East and globally will have to invest huge sums to harden their defenses against the new normal of worsening extreme rainfall episodes.

“The immense scale of the flooding that submerged Dubai is exactly the type of havoc that climate models have been predicting will become much more common unless we get a handle on rising global temperatures,” stated Dr. Mounir. “This is the harsh wake-up call that climate change impacts like this are arriving now, even in wealthy nations like the UAE that have resources. Now the expensive work of safeguarding communities begins before more catastrophic events inevitably come.”

After a terrifying 24 hours under a liquid siege, Dubai was slowly regaining its cosmopolitan luster on Wednesday as the floodwaters gradually drained away. Preliminary estimates indicated the damages could run into the hundreds of millions as the recovery and rebuilding process begins. Officials were vowing to fortify the city’s defenses against future climate change-fueled weather whiplash, underscoring the urgent need for mitigation and preparation on a global scale. Dubai’s flooding offered a grim vision of a new age of hydrological extremes being ushered in by a changing climate that no city will be spared from.


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