How Dubai brings rain to the sky

Drone technology shoots lasers into clouds producing rain

Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is situated right on the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman just across the way and, consequently, they get plenty of cloud cover. In fact, it’s often called the City in the Clouds:

The Crown Prince of Dubai captured this photo courtesy Bored Panda

Despite the clouds, the UAE is still the desert with today’s temp at 105° and humidity 29% (they’ve hit 125° this summer) and they’re lucky to get 4 inches of rain per year! The majority of their food is imported because you just can’t grow much there without water. And here’s my new saying -- you can bring a cloud to the sky, but you can’t make it rain!

Or Can You?

Clouds, as you know, are full of water droplets -- you have to get the clouds to get any rain -- and as those tiny water droplets gather, or coalesce, on dust or some other condensation nuclei, they eventually get heavy enough to fall as rain. The problem is that the smallest droplets evaporate before reaching the ground in a place like the desert, so the challenge is not just to get it to rain but to make sure those droplets are big enough to make it all the way to Earth.

How they get bigger is key to this new technology -- raindrops have positive and negative charges. The smallest droplets are negative while the larger ones are positive. Put a drone up there to zap some of the small ones so you have positive charged drops -- opposites attract and if your positive and negative drops start getting together they’ll make one big drop that will fall all the way to the ground!

Here is a simple illustration:

Drones put the electrical charges in the clouds to get more water droplets to coalesce with each other

This whole idea has been working well, but there is always the con: people there haven’t heard about Turn Around, Don’t Drown and are not used to quick street flooding.

Witness this headline: UAE experiences heavy rain after cloud seeding, 4 missing in Oman floods That story with video is right here.

The new technology may well take hold here in Texas -- the Permian Basin has been seeding clouds for a while now along with eight other states. They use the technique of shooting silver iodide into the clouds from the ground or dropping from a plane. And generally this works, credited with increasing snowpack by 10% in the Rockies. And if you’ve seen the drought monitor lately, the western United States is in desperate need of rain.

I looked at several articles on Dubai’s drone “rain enhancement program” and the best overall explainer for me was from Singularity Hub.



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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.