Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What to Expect When it Rains

This week it started raining, nice proper rain. The dry season is officially over!

It started on November 17 and by my recollection it was a bit early this year, as late November or early December seem to be the usual time. But why rely on my memory when there's plenty of data. Thanks to I was able to go back and look at when the end of the dry season was for the last 10 years.

Turns out my memory was pretty faulty. Mid-November is not that unusual and in the majority of the years November was when the first rainfall occurred. A couple of times it was even late October. There is a lot of variance as to when there was a decent rain though, in 2005 and 2007 technically the first rainfall occurred in October or November but it was one day and just a tiny sprinkle. In both those years the “real” rain didn't occur until January of next year. You can also have December be the rainiest month one year, then next year have no precipitation at all during December. Weird.

So for you people new to Qatar or planning to move to Qatar, what can you expect from the rainy season? Here’s my tips.

1) Drainage can be spotty

Let's face it, it doesn't rain much in Qatar so there isn't a pressing need to spend billions and billions of dollars on sophisticated drainage systems that might only be needed once or twice a year. Drains do exist on roads but not always in the most efficient way which means it is not usual to find huge puddles on roads. Roundabouts are especially vulnerable to this, if the roundabout is angled slightly towards the center then of course all the water flows towards the center and the inside lane becomes a massive puddle.

Qatar is not very sandy, more like clay with a thin layer of sand on top, which doesn’t drain water very well. With a heavy rain the open areas like empty lots can quickly become small ponds as all the water just sits on top. For example here’s a 2006 photo of an empty lot near Salwa Road.

That said there is some design to the drainage so Doha seems to fare better in rainstorms than some other cities in the region. Sadly large Saudi cities like Jeddah and Riyadh can have flash floods that result in casualties.

2) Things might leak

Construction is not always of the best quality and since heavy rain is so rare it could be a long time before anyone figures out a place is leaky. Today it was Villagio Mall making headlines for flooding in numerous areas of the mall:

3) Things will get coated in mud

You would normally think rain will do things like wash the dust off your car but in truth it makes things worse. Qatar has a lot of sand/dust in the air so when it rains the rain takes the dust, deposits it on your car, and then when it evaporates your car is filthy.

Some of the shades you see in parking lots can really make your car dirty when it rains. Most of them are a fine mesh that water can get through so the rain takes the 8-9 months of dust that accumulated on the shade and puts it on your car.

Only after it has rained for a while and taken the dust out of the air will the rain be “clean”.

On the bright side when it stops raining the air looks remarkably clear.

4) Be wary on unfamiliar roads

Many of the smaller roads and side roads in Doha can have potholes of various sizes, and in areas like the Industrial Area these can be huge. But when it rains the water fills up the hole so you won't know how deep it is when you drive over it. Some of these are much deeper than it looks so you need to be careful when driving down unfamiliar roads. Heck, sometimes when you drive down a road you are familiar with you need to be careful, because . . .

5) Shifting sand = shifting asphalt

Roads and sidewalks are built over that clay-like sandy soil and a heavy rain can cause it to shift or settle, which then causes the sidewalk or road above it to sink or warp. Don't be surprised if after a heavy rain there are unexpected bumps in the road.

And finally,

6) Go to the desert a month or so later

If there has been a good amount of rain then the normally dry, dusty desert will bloom. Grasses and shrubs start appearing from everywhere, and up north it can even look like grassland or prairie. I've only seen it once, after prolonged heavy rains in 2006, but it was cool to see. Check out these pictures from an abandoned village in northern Qatar. One was in September, the other in February after the rains.

I’m hoping the rains are good this year so maybe we’ll see the “Qatar Prairie” again.

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