Friday, 11 March 2016

When it rains......

Very happy wetland feeders

As you know Oman is a desert country, much of the interior is made up of differing types of desert. There are large swathes of the "classical" sand desert, including massive dunes as well as what we Australians would call gibber plains of desert. For much of the year the temperature is well over 40, in places peaking above 50 and night-time lows are in the high 30's. 

Most of the water in the country comes from aquifers and over the millenia, Omani's have learnt how to access and use those sources. The most prolific and long standing is the Fallaj, which are simply aqueducts running both above and below ground. Wherever there is water and soil, there are green oases and villages. 

What is not so common is rain. Although it seems rain is coming more and more often to Oman. However as there is little practical experience dealing with rain it is cause for celebration when it does arrive. People come out to watch, which is a deadly mix when combined with the barren landscape that does not absorb water. What this means is that with rain comes flash flooding. So every time there is a solid dump of rain people get too close and the inevitable happens, some get caught up and washed away, often to their deaths. Every time there is a serious rain the Police issue warnings and a certain proportion of people ignore them. Oh to be young again.  

Our local flood
Where the water came from

It only takes seconds for a perfectly dry place to be transformed into a raging torrent. There are plenty of youtube videos showing flash flooding in Oman and near escapes.

Last September we got caught in rains in the mountains, we were driving across to the UAE for a weekend away.  It started raining, within minutes there were rivulets running down the mountains. In less than an hour we were trapped between two Wadi's that for 99% of the year are bone dry. We saw whole date palms and dumpsters bobbing by in the spate. So we did what the locals do, stopped, hunkered down and sat out the flood. After about two hours the rain stopped, another hour or so the wadi had abated enough for us to cross and be on our way. Roughly 20 minutes down the road there were isolated pools in the wadi and on our return to Oman two days later you could hardly tell there had been such an amount of water through.

Those rivulets - Sorry about the image quality!
Safe enough to cross? On the way to UAE

This week we had three consecutive days of rain and the latest news article I saw recorded five deaths this time round. The road out front of our house has now been under water for three days, although the flow is now right down and only a few centimeters deep at the most. For a good two days though the water flowing across the road was a solid 30+ cm deep and flowing quite quickly. Many people used discretion and did not cross the water. Many others however made the most of it. 

At the point where the wadi crosses the road there is around 100 meters to the beach, running through vacant land that has some unofficial football pitches and so on. This is normally dry as there is a sand bank before the beach. That sand bank is so substantial that for the last 6 months road workers have been pumping groundwater seepage (2 large industrial pumps running 24*7) from a construction hole into the vacant land, thereby creating a shallow wetland system. Complete with freshwater fish and a thriving community of wading birds. Not any more!

Making the most of the floods

The rain was such and the water outflow such that that sand bank has been all but washed away. Creek channels have been cut through the "wetland" and the outflow area to the sea is both deep and wide, maybe 10 meters, with at least 4 meters of height washed away.  So we weren't too surprised this morning when the roof of a small saloon car was spotted in the outflow. As the Police were in attendance and did not seem too concerned we will happily assume that nobody was hurt. It did make our ride last a bit longer than normal though. 

Renaults don't float
Retrieval begins (Three days ago that was unbroken beach)

When it rains like this Omani's come out in droves to watch the water, dare the edge and generally get a bit wet. All good fun! Young men come out in their droves and test their Jeeps out in the waters - it is mostly the Jeeps that do that. Probably because there tend to be more tricked out Jeeps and they are the weapon of choice for younger Omani's that go offroad regularly. 

Because rain is not all that common roads don't have drainage systems and water follows its millenia old paths through, happily cutting roads, inundating playing fields and generally making it a little tricky for people to get around. Work was pretty quiet, with some staff and many brokers and others choosing to stay away. Katrina's car hasn't really moved since the rain started, because it would have been difficult for her to get anywhere. The Land Rover, on the other hand.......

Anyway with the sand bank washed away the wetlands area is well and truly underwater and the waders are making the most of it, with various herons and spoonbills in attendance, quite happily dealing with any small fish that happen to come by. I expect that by tomorrow the water will be down further again and in time wind and tide will rebuild the sandbank. On our ride this morning we did see another new channel cut to the sea by run-off. 

A new outflow

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