Ahmad, what got you interested in weather and weather forecasting?
I was always passionate about the sciences – physics and chemistry, particularly – and maths while in school in Dubai. So when I was sponsored by the National Centre of Meteorology & Seismology (NCMS) to go to the University of Reading in the UK [listed as second in the world for research in Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences] to study meteorology, I was elated. It was an uncommon subject and it piqued my interest. And once I started learning it, I became fascinated by the weather and weather patterns.
Growing up, were you ever scared of lightning, thunder, rain?
Oh no, in fact I used to look forward to the few spells of rain we used to get here in the UAE. Those were moments I used to rush out to get soaked in the rain.
What’s your working day like?
We have two shifts here – the first from 7.30am to 7.30pm and the second from 7.30pm to 7.30am. After a day shift and a night shift, you get three days off, although some days we might be asked to be on stand-by in case a forecaster is unable to come into the office. If I’m on the day shift, I’m usually in office by around 7.15am.
What’s the first thing you do when you start work?
We meet with forecasters from the previous shift and get a detailed brief from them about the major weather phenomena that occurred during their shift. Most importantly, we ask if any weather warnings were issued, if the warning time period needs to be extended, whether any particular weather phenomenon needs monitoring or updating and so on. The briefing may be for around 15 to 20 minutes.
That done, we put together a weather bulletin and update relevant government and public entities of prevailing weather conditions. An important job is to keep the media and the various government departments up to date on weather conditions. At all times we constantly monitor weather changes, patterns and developments of weather phenomena.
What are the things you need to keep your eyes peeled for?
Rainfall and fog, the latter particularly during the evenings and nights. If it is a really humid night, we monitor satellite data frequently to check if fog is developing in any part of the UAE. We must be able to pinpoint where exactly the fog is occurring so we can warn people and related departments to be aware of this phenomenon.
What do you like best about your job?
The fact that this is not like a regular desk job where you are signing papers or doing mundane clerical tasks. Here, every day is a different one. Sometimes every hour can be different with new challenges or new developments occurring forcing you to multitask. For instance, you might need to monitor a situation closely while speaking to the media, updating weather bulletins and creating a weather chart sometimes all at the same time. All this makes my job very exciting, fun and challenging. You are never bored for even a minute.
What are the biggest challenges in forecasting?
A lot of people think weather forecasting in the UAE is easy. But in reality it’s not. Fog is one of the most common but difficult weather phenomena to predict particularly as to where exactly it will form.
What kind of weather do you prefer – rain or sun?
Rain, of course. I think all of us here in the UAE like rain, don’t we? Although I did spend a lot of time in the UK where it rains frequently, I still enjoy experiencing a nice heavy shower. I guess it’s because it doesn’t rain a lot here and when it does it’s really lovely.
If you see a nice rain cloud in the satellite pictures in Al Ain, for instance, do you feel like heading off there as soon as you finish work?
There’ve been occasions when I’ve considered doing that. But once we put out a bulletin to the public about the likelihood of rain in a particular area, you often see a lot of people heading there to experience it. And I don’t like to get caught in a traffic jam so I avoid going to rain spots now.
Do your friends call you to find out what the weather is going to be like over the weekend, for instance?
Yes, they do that often. They keep asking me to inform them in advance when and where it might rain so they can try to be there.
How do you spend the three off days you get?
I love movies so I try to catch at least one movie a week with friends. I also love swimming and head off to the beach – if I know the weather is going to be good.