I knew before relocating to the Sultanate of Oman that this is one of the hottest, driest places on Earth. I’d spent a few years in the Australian outback, and wasn’t concerned about extreme heat. I hadn’t anticipated accompanying extremes of humidity though, or that the “real feel” (adjusted) temperatures would reach 60°C (140°F). How can it get so humid in a desert city that gets around 100mm (4 inches) of annual rainfall?
I was surprised to discover that many Muscat schools and colleges close when it rains, much like the rare snow-day reprieves I loved so much as a kid. As a Gulf newcomer I didn’t understand why every minor rain event dominates the headlines, or why my 18-year-old students rush to the window at the first hint of a shower, every bit as excitable as 8-year-old me on an Australian snow-day.
Then I found out just what half an inch of rain can do.
Yesterday was hot and sunny in Muscat, like most days since the last ice age. I went out for a drive, took a swim at a nice little beach and met a couple of friends at the beach bar.
After lunch the pressure dropped and the wind picked up… it started to rain. Not a torrential downpour (which would be catastrophic) but a light steady rain for less than an hour. Driving home I used my windscreen wipers only sporadically, but I did come across this…
Suburbs were flooded and roads were closed. Trees were down. There was a partial roof collapse at Muscat Grand Mall. Whenever it rains for more than a couple of minutes, people tragically die, swept away in the flash floods that fill the wadis in just seconds. It seems almost impossible that a desert city on the Arabian Peninsular can in just moments be transformed into scenes like this…
If you happen to be a fan of rugged natural beauty, Muscat is a spectacular sight. Surrounded by a breathtaking rocky mountainscape, it is very fortunate that such little rain falls… a city couldn’t exist here otherwise. A few millimeters of rainwater transforms into a cascading torrent, exploding down these barren slopes with nowhere to go except into the city.
And then, almost as quickly as it arrived, the water is mysteriously and unapologetically gone… businesses and individuals start counting their losses and the cleaning up begins again.
The losses sustained after each rain are almost incomprehensible. After Friday’s weather, a Times of Oman article reported that 70 lives are lost each year on average in Oman, and the annual financial cost exceeds 1.2 billion OMR (over US $3bn). This means that every inch of rain that falls on Muscat does approximately 800 million dollars in damages.
…and here’s a bit of fun footage from the Times of Oman showing the results of Friday’s rain, and some local nuts who might not completely appreciate the power of water…