Middle East

A year’s worth of rain plunges normally dry Dubai underwater

By Mary Gilbert and Brandon Miller, CNN Meteorologists

CNN  —  A year’s worth of rain unleashed immense flash flooding in Dubai Tuesday as roads turned into rivers and rushing water inundated homes and businesses.

Shocking video showed the tarmac of Dubai International Airport – recently crowned the second-busiest airport in the world – underwater as massive aircraft attempt to navigate floodwaters. Large jets looked more like boats moving through the flooded airport as water sprayed in their wake and waves rippled through the deep water.

Disruption to airport operations continued into Wednesday, with access roads blocked by flooding and multiple airlines including flag carrier Emirates reporting flight delays. Budget airline Flydubai canceled all flights until 10 a.m. local time Wednesday.

Emirates is suspending check-in for passengers departing Dubai from 8:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday until midnight on Thursday due to “operational challengers caused by bad weather and road conditions.”

Dubai International Airport also advised people to “NOT to come to the airport, unless absolutely necessary,” and said “flights continue to be delayed and diverted.”

The airline said passengers who were already in transit will continue to be processed but warned that customers can expect delays to departures and arrivals.

One stranded passenger told CNN he spent the night at the airport with hundreds of others after flying in from Hong Kong late Tuesday because there were no transport options out of the terminal.

“The airport is literally filling up and there’s nowhere for anyone to go,” said Bilal, 25, who only wished to be identified by his first name.

Motorists drive along a flooded street in Dubai on April 17, 2024.

Nearly 4 inches (100 mm) of rain fell over the course of just 12 hours on Tuesday, according to weather observations at the airport – around what Dubai usually records in an entire year, according to United Nations data.

The rain fell so heavily and so quickly that some motorists were forced to abandon their vehicles as the floodwater rose and roads turned into rivers.

Video from social media showed water rushing through a major shopping mall and inundating the ground floor of homes.

Scores of passengers left stranded at the Dubai International Airport on April 17, 2024.
A vehicle drives through deep floodwaters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday.

Like the rest of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has a hot and dry climate. As such, rainfall is infrequent and in many areas there is limited infrastructure such as drainage to handle extreme events.

When it rained Tuesday, it absolutely poured.

Torrential rainfall events like this will become more frequent due to human-driven climate change. As the atmosphere continues to warm, it’s able to soak up more moisture like a towel and then ring it out in the form of more extreme gushes of flooding rainfall.

Cars drive through a flooded street in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday.
The United Arab Emirates experienced its heaviest downpour since records began in 1949, Dubai's media office said in a statement.

The rain that plunged Dubai underwater is associated with a larger storm system traversing the Arabian Peninsula and moving across the Gulf of Oman. This same system is also bringing unusually wet weather to nearby Oman and southeastern Iran.

Rain is expected to taper off in the region but a few showers may linger Wednesday before dry weather returns.

CNN’s Teele Rebane and Kathleen Magramo contributed reporting.

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