Dubai flooding puts focus on cloud seeding. Could artificial rain come to Arizona?

The United Arab Emirates in the Middle East is under water after historic rain amounts fell over the area in the past few days, causing flooding, shutting down airports, and resulting in more than a dozen deaths.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the usually dry country received nearly two years' worth of rain. Dubai authorities issued a stay-at-home advisory for a second day, ordering employees and students to work remotely due to the debilitating storms.

USA TODAY reported that at least 19 people, including children, died because of the storms in Oman, a neighboring country. More rain was still expected.

Some social media posts pointed to cloud seeding, a technique that aims to improve a cloud’s ability to produce rain or snow, as a possible cause of the flooding.

The UAE has a long-running program to zap clouds with electricity to artificially create rain to alleviate the regions' heat waves and arid climate. The project was seeing renewed speculation following the unprecedented flooding, which has brought a social media wave of images and videos of heavy rain, water gushing past trees, and cars and buses abandoned on soaked highways.

Here's what you need to know about cloud seeding and the Dubai floods, and whether the same could happen in Arizona.

What is happening in Dubai?

In one year, Dubai sees an average of 3.73 inches of rain, the Associated Press reported. On Tuesday, a torrential downpour brought 5.59 inches of rainfall, sending the city into a standstill.

It was the most rain to ever hit the city since records began in 1949.

Dubai's DXB, one of the world's busiest airports, was feeling the impact of the unusually wet conditions as water flowed onto taxiways. Arrivals were stopped on Tuesday night, according to the Associated Press, and folks with departures are asked to stay away from the airport.

"We advise you NOT to come to the airport, unless absolutely necessary," states a post from DXB on X, formerly known as Twitter. "We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions."

Despite the rain easing up on Tuesday night, the city still faced problems. Passengers departing Dubai's airport via the Emirates airline could not check into their flights until midnight on Wednesday "due to operational challenges caused by bad weather and road conditions," the airline tweeted.

Dubai inundated with rain: Photos show flooded city after torrential downpour leaves at least 1 dead

Where is Dubai?

Dubai is a city in the northern part of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is on the eastern end of the Arabian Penninsula neighboring Saudi Arabia and Oman.

What is cloud seeding?

Cloud seeding is a practice that aims to modify the weather by introducing ice particles into passing storms.

According to the Desert Research Institute, those particles allow more snowflakes to quickly form inside storm clouds, increasing snowpack and streamflow.

Similar practices to the one used in the UAE have existed for decades. It is used in at least eight states in the western U.S. and dozens of countries, the Scientific American reported.

However, the process has typically used salt flairs and has come with concerns about the environment, expenses, and effectiveness, according to the Desert Research Institute. For that reason, back in the summer of 2021, the UAE began testing drones that fly into clouds to give them an electric shock to trigger rain production.

Is rain in Dubai caused by cloud seeding?

While cloud seeding has been an easy culprit for internet finger-pointing as the flooding occurred, it is not known if cloud seeding played a role.

Amit Katwala, who has reported on cloud seeding, said cloud seeding was likely not the cause of the floods because of amount of rain and typical protocol around cloud seeding in the UAE, wrote in an article for WIRED.

He points out that scientists were still studying the effectiveness of cloud seeding, but it had only been estimated to increase rainfall by 25% annually. Katwala also noted that most of the operations were conducted far away from the country's population centers.

The UAE government also denied that it had carried out any cloud seeding operations prior to the floods, CNBC reported. Oman, which was also affected by the flooding, did not carry out any operations.

Could cloud seeding happen in Arizona?

Arizona, like the UAE, experiences long heat waves and scorching temperatures in the summer. The state has experienced a worsening drought, and companies have been experimenting with solutions to bring water back into its rivers.

Among them, the Salt River Project has been experimenting with cloud seeding, according to Cronkite News.

The utility company, which delivers power and water across central Arizona, began a partnership with the White Mountain Apache Tribe to look at a ground-based cloud seeding program to produce more snow in the White Mountains, meant to increase flows into the Colorado River.

SRP's project used silver iodide to form ice particles inside a cloud. Silver iodide is considered the most common agent used in cloud seeding practices to freeze the supercooled liquid suspended in the cloud.

The state has also supported out-of-state initiatives. The Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the Central Arizona Project provide funding to Colorado’s cloud seeding program, which also aims to bolster existing water supplies by creating more flow into the Colorado River for the use of residents in Arizona and six other states.

Although cloud seeding in Arizona is in the early stages, critics fear it could cause storms and flooding and content silver iodide can be toxic for aquatic life.

However, there is no evidence that local cloud seeding programs could prompt negative weather patterns, and a 2009 study by the Water Modification Association conducted a study found that silver iodide has "no environmentally harmful effects."

SRP researchers said they are conducting studies to prevent any negative impacts on weather and that cloud seeding is a safe tool that could benefit water supplies in Arizona.

USA TODAY reporters Julia Gomez, Doyle Rice, and Christine Fernando contributed to this article.

Laura Daniella Sepulveda is a trending reporter for the Arizona Republic. Reach her on Twitter at @lauradaniella_s or by email at laura.sepulveda@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cloud seeding in Dubai: Did it bring floods? Could it come to Arizona?