November 10, 2020

Unusual Weather

The weather in Qatar is marked, throughout the year, by several unusual weather conditions. These are known locally as Al Sarayat, Shamal Winds and Wasmi. Heavy rains, strong winds, dust storms and thunder and lightning are all common during these periods. In a desert environment, the unsettled weather seems rather out of place, though strangely captivating.

Al Sarayat

In Qatar, from mid-March to mid-May, thunderstorms are whipped up surprisingly quickly. A beautiful, dry, sunny day can rapidly darken with heavy and foreboding clouds. The wind can pick up, and heavy rain can fall, with little or no notice.
This unsettled weather, during the transition period from Winter to Summer, is known as Al Sarayat. During this period weather fluctuations are rapid, strong winds blow from the north-east, and warm fronts and cold fronts move across the landscape in quick succession. Cold fronts, which move faster than warm fronts, squeeze through the warmer, less-dense air, creating a low-pressure system. The low-pressure systems are responsible for the severe rainfall and thunderstorms.
These storms usually only last for a short period, over a limited area, and usually in the evening and at night. However, they are particularly impressive storms; lightning strikes are fierce and the thunder booms and crashes so loudly that at times it can rattle the windows and doors. Thunderstorms are generally accompanied by strong winds and heavy rain and, at times, dust storms.

Image: Katiekk2/

Shamal Winds

The peninsula of Qatar, surrounded by open water on three sides, is relatively flat and characteristically windy - any wind passes over the flat land relatively unimpeded. The prevailing wind for much of the year is from the north and north-west. Those winds are generally quite blustery as they are funnelled through mountains to the north-east and the north-west of Qatar. The wind is, for the most part, a very welcome climatic condition. On hot sticky days, a breeze blowing through the city streets can be utterly delightful. However, during the Summer and Winter seasons, those blustery north-west winds pick up and can become quite ferocious, especially when they bring dust and sand with them. Stepping outside on a very windy day in the Summer can be like stepping into a blast furnace.
The stronger winds are known as Shamal winds (from the North). Shamals can occur at any time of the year, but they are most frequent in the Summer months and, to a lesser degree, in the Winter months. During Shamal events, the wind funnelled down to Qatar through the Persian Gulf increases in strength. This is due to a trough of low pressure, from the north-east, interacting with an area of high pressure over the Arabian Peninsula. The result of this interaction is a tight squeeze in the isobars creating a strong pressure gradient. The strong pressure gradient results in strong winds.
Shamals can create enormous sand storms that cover vast swathes of land and sea. Visibility during a sand storm can be reduced to meters, the world around you becomes covered with a film of dust and sand, and breathing in the air can be a health hazard. Fortunately, each Shamal event is short-lived and only lasts a few days.

Did you know? The word Shamal is the Arabic word for ‘North’ (الشمال). Hence, the winds from the north.

Image: Philip Lange/


During October to mid-December, the weather in Qatar becomes unsettled as the Summer draws to a close. The unrelenting temperatures seen during the previous months are intermittently disturbed by spells of rain, dips in temperatures, and cool winds from the north-west. While October is a little early to start digging out jumpers, pulling out umbrellas and rain jackets, just in case, isn't a bad idea.
The period is known locally as Al Wasmi. It is marked by intermittent spells of rain, some heavy downpours and storms. Though rainfall levels are not as high as in the winter months, they are welcomed by farmers in the region. Many say that rainfall at the beginning of the Wasmi period is a sign of a good growing season.
For the daily weather forecast, monthly outlooks, weather warnings and more, in Doha and across Qatar, check out the following websites:

Main image: kk_tt/

Published: January 08, 2020
Last updated: November 10, 2020
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