Dubai Drenched: Flash Floods Inundate City, Transforming Airport into Waterworld

Motorists drive along a flooded street in Dubai on April 17, 2024. 
Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

Dubai, known for its arid climate and desert landscapes, was transformed into a waterlogged city on Tuesday as torrential rain unleashed flash floods, inundating roads, homes, and businesses. The deluge, which lasted for about 12 hours, brought nearly 4 inches (100 mm) of rain – roughly equivalent to the city’s average annual rainfall.

The impact was particularly severe at Dubai International Airport, the world’s second-busiest airport, where runways turned into waterways, forcing massive aircraft to navigate through floodwaters. Shocking videos showed planes taxiing through submerged tarmacs, resembling boats more than aircraft.

The airport’s operations were significantly disrupted, with access roads blocked and flights delayed or canceled. Emirates, the flag carrier airline of the UAE, suspended check-in for departing passengers and warned of operational challenges due to the inclement weather.

Passengers faced hours-long delays and many were stranded at the airport, unable to leave due to flooded roads and limited transport options. Some described the scene as the airport “filling up” with nowhere to go.

The heavy rainfall also wreaked havoc on the city’s infrastructure, with motorists abandoning vehicles as roads turned into rivers. Videos shared on social media showed water rushing through shopping malls and flooding the ground floors of homes.

This extreme weather event, the heaviest downpour since records began in 1949, is attributed to a larger storm system affecting the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf of Oman. Climate scientists warn that such extreme rainfall events are likely to become more frequent due to human-driven climate change, as warmer atmospheres can hold more moisture and unleash it in the form of intense rainfall.

As the rain tapers off and the region begins to dry out, the aftermath of the flooding serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for infrastructure improvements to cope with increasingly extreme weather patterns.