The country has been sweltering in 40-plus-degree temperatures and it’s officially hotter than this time last year. Get ready for a long, scorching summer, say Kate Ginn and Deeba Hasan
The first signs started last month, just over 1,000 kilometres away as the crow flies from Oman to Nawabshah, a city north of Hyderabad in central Pakistan. A lush agricultural region, its population is used to a dry, hot climate with daily temperatures at this time of year in the low 40°C range.
But when the mercury hit 49°C four days in a row in only mid-May, the locals knew something was afoot. Weather forecasters soon confirmed what they already knew: the country was in the grip of a heatwave. And it was on the move.
The burning swathe of heat spread across the country and crossed the border into India, where the brutal temperatures have, up to June 4, claimed more than 2,500 lives, making it the fifth-deadliest heatwave in recorded history.
Roads melted in New Delhi as temperatures hovered 12.2°C above average for nearly two weeks. According to the Indian government’s National Disaster Management Authority website, the country is experiencing more intense heatwaves frequently due to global climate change.
The heatwave pushed south, blowing across the Arabian Sea to Oman, the UAE and other parts of the GCC, where the punishing conditions have been taking their toll ever since.
In the UAE, where temperatures have risen three to five degrees Celsius since the start of June, the highest daytime temperature in the world was recorded at Sweihan, Abu Dhabi, with 50.5°C. Doha also saw a high of 46.1°C at the beginning of June.
Oman has regularly been recording temperatures in the mid-to-high 40s and last week, the thermometer reached 49°C in Khasab.
“This year, it’s got hotter earlier than the usual months,” says Muscat resident Dimple Jayraj Bhatia.
“The temperature has already reached 45-47 in May itself. Also, I see a rise in skin disease and lots of people falling sick. And with the ongoing water and electricity problems, dealing with the heat has become unbearable.”
Her sentiments are being echoed across Oman – apart from the south, of course, where Salalah residents are basking in cooling breezes, cloudy skies and enviable temperatures a good 10°C lower than the north – as people struggle to cope with the unexpected spike in heat.
It’s as if, as a Muscat resident said upon returning to Oman after three weeks away, “someone has turned up the oven”.
Hospitals and clinics are reporting more cases of heatstroke and dehydration, while the high levels of heat and humidity have been blamed for an outbreak of scarlet fever in Muscat in the past week.
Calls were made for an early introduction of the midday summer break, stipulating that workers outdoors must down tools between the hours of 12.30pm to 3.30pm. In the end, it started as usual – on the first day of June.
The bad news is that it’s not going to improve – at least not for a while. In fact, it may get worse before it gets better.
There is the possible impact of Tropical Cyclone Ashobaa, which is loitering in the Arabian Sea and heading for the coast of Oman and Pakistan. If it doesn’t dissipate or veer off course, Ashobaa was predicted to make landfall either yesterday (June 10) or today, bringing with it cloud and possible rain.
It will, however, be nothing more than a temporary relief in what in all likelihood will be a long, hot spell in the Sultanate and throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
“We will be looking at warmer than normal temperatures for much of the summer, and a few highs near 50°C for the region are certainly possible,” says Evan Duffey, a meteorologist at AccuWeather, a company that provides forecasts worldwide.
“The real heatwave began in Muscat on May 24 and since then, temperatures have averaged 3.8°C above normal.”
Coupled with the longest fasting hours for Ramadan in 32 years – more than 15 hours a day – and the start of the Holy Month just a week away, it’s all conspiring to be the summer version of the “Perfect Storm” thanks to a combination of adverse meteorological factors.
According to Duffey, the hot spell is down to high pressure over the region and warmer than usual sea-surface temperatures.
Extreme weather whips up extreme weather stories. And the Gulf has been no exception.
Reports last week that Riyadh could even see 65°C during Ramadan sparked a heated debate on social media. Climatologist Abdul Rahman Mohammed al Ghamdi claimed it would hit 65°C in direct sunlight on or about June 21 in the Kingdom, citing the hot and humid depression in India, carbon emissions from factories and car exhausts as the cause.
While most weather experts were quick to dismiss the claims as nothing more than hot air – it would be a world record if true and readings in direct sunlight can hit much higher than even 65°C, meaning such a figure is virtually meaningless – it is not without some foundation.
An official from the Directorate General of Meteorology is not exactly painting a sunny outlook for the near future.
“The entire region is suffering from dry wind. The temperature recordings are almost the same everywhere in the region,” said an official.
AccuWeather’s Duffey predicts a “few highs near 50°C” for the region, but says anything around 55°C would be difficult to achieve (the highest temperature ever recorded in history is 56.7°C in California in 1913, measured “in the shade”).
Looking into the weather crystal ball is not an exact science and the unpredictability means no one really knows what’s around the climate corner.
Certainly, Oman’s residents are feeling the heat this year.
“It got hotter earlier, that’s for sure. Usually here in Sur, it doesn’t hit 40 degrees till May. This year, it was mid-March when we started seeing 40-degree weather,” says Becky Adams on social media forum Muscat Where Can I Find? (MWCIF?)
“This summer is really way too hot,” agrees Babo Sonyeo. “I am actually having difficulty walking under the hot sun at 2.30pm as no taxis pass by my workplace. Due to this, I’ve been experiencing chronic headaches and fatigue.”
Bahjat Haddad says: “This is my third summer here and the worst so far in terms of weather. The first summer I spent here I was impressed by how nice the summer was compared to Dubai, which I used to live in before.”
Jessica Wittmann Dakin adds: “You have to look at the heat index as well as just the actual temperature. Saturday was 37°C, however, it had a feel like temp of 55.
“It’s hot here and the hottest months are usually now. Perhaps with some of the other issues such as lack of water people are really feeling the pinch.”
Sumayyah Sheikh, a 22-year-old university student in Muscat, who is preparing to fast for Ramadan, says: “Though the heat will be at its peak and the fasting period will be really long, I don’t think it will hinder my fast as the double rewards will keep me motivated throughout. I hope everyone is able to observe Ramadan well.”
When extreme heat comes, so do health problems. One doctor at the Badr Al Samaa Hospital in Ruwi said they were receiving at least eight patients complaining of heat-related illnesses every day.
Posting on MWCIF? Prachi Sharma tells Y: “Me and my little baby got fever due to the hot climate.
“Now we are fine, but I suggest everyone drink lots of fluids and avoid going out in the sun especially with babies.”
Dr Mohammed Salim, a general practitioner at Dar Al Shifa Medical Centre in Muscat, says people are at risk of a range of illnesses during rising temperatures.
“In such intense summers, people are prone to developing sunburn, and children and adults are prone to symptoms of fatigue and dehydration,” he tells Y.
“Many people don’t drink enough water and children go out to play in the sun without wearing sunblock.
“I also get patients suffering from fever and once summer starts, there is a rise in patients with symptoms.”
Others point out that we live in the Middle East and should be prepared for the scorching summers that come with the territory.
“I’ve been here 23 years and every year we complain and swear that it is hotter than the year before,” says Kathryn Ring. “I think May and June are the worst months because our bodies [and our minds] have to adjust to the higher temperatures. This is Oman. We can complain all we want, but it is what it is. Hot? Stay hydrated.”
Staying hydrated is all well and good, but large parts of Muscat are still gripped in the ongoing water crisis, which has seen homes left without supplies for weeks on end or with low water pressure.
“Without water you can’t survive, three members of my family were hospitalised, including my mom,” says Muneeb Abbas Bhutta.
Daniel Nash, another Oman resident, says: “I’ve also had bad headaches and fatigue. This is my fourth year here and not experienced it before. It’s gone now, thankfully. At least we have water.”
Thankfully, there is a cloud on the weather horizon. Oman is not facing the worst summer in its history and we can expect it to cool down a little, says weatherman Duffey.
“Temperatures for the region may climb a few degrees higher over the coming weeks. However, the high temperatures, at least in Muscat, occur in mid-June. So there are chances of extreme heat dropping off by the end of the month.”
Until then, Oman’s residents can only grin and bear it – preferably wearing a hat and plenty of sunscreen.
These include: confusion, dark-coloured urine (a sign of dehydration), dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headache, muscle or abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea.