Potent winter storm turns deadly as it wreaks havoc across the Middle East

Eric Leister

A deadly winter storm brought severe impacts to millions of people from parts of the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan beginning late last week and through the weekend.

At least 160 people were killed by the combination of avalanches, brutal cold and severe flooding in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the Associated Press (AP).

An Afghan man removes snow from his shelter in Kabul, Afghanistan January 12, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

The storm got underway on Thursday with scattered showers and a few thunderstorms from eastern Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and far northern Oman into southern Iran.

The heaviest rain arrived across the UAE, far northern Oman and southeastern Iran late on Friday and continued into Saturday.

Widespread rainfall totals reached between 25-75 mm (1-3 inches) from Thursday to Sunday across the Middle East.

Dubai, UAE, reported 60 mm (2.35 inches) and Muscat, Oman, reported 42 mm (1.64 inches).

This magnitude of rainfall caused severe flooding and widespread travel disruptions.

Locations from Doha to Dubai and Muscat typically average 75-150 mm (3-6 inches) of rainfall for an entire year.

Across the Persian Gulf, torrential rainfall caused flooding chaos and also resulted in at least four deaths in southeast Iran, according to Manoto News.

More than 3,000 people were rescued amid the flooding which has left some towns completely isolated due to inundated roadways. The flooding has left at least 2,500 homes seriously damaged.

The worst flooding occurred in Sistan-Baluchestan province where 186 mm (7.32 inches) was reported. The yearly average total rainfall is only 119 mm (4.69 inches).


In this Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, photo, people walk on a road during heavy snow fall in Quetta, capital of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province. Much of the damage was caused in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province where Imran Zarkon, the head of provincial disaster management authority, said 14 people were killed in the past 24 hours because of collapsed roofs amid winter's unusual snowfall, which also blocked highways and disrupted normal life. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)

Locally heavy rainfall also spread across the lower elevations of Afghanistan and southwestern Pakistan through the end of the weekend causing significant flooding.

This storm also produced heavy snow across higher elevations from Iran into Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.

Police officers and local residents dig to search bodies of victims of avalanches in Doodnail village in Neelum Valley, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. Search teams aided by Pakistani troops pulled out 21 more bodies from homes destroyed by this week's avalanches in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, raising the overall death toll due to severe winter weather to more than 155 for Pakistan and Afghanistan, officials said. (AP Photo/Abdul Razaq)

At least 121 deaths have been reported in Pakistan due a series of avalanches in the mountains and flooding in lower elevations. The hardest hit area is Pakistan-administered Kashmir where at least 76 people have died in avalanches according to the AP.

Multiple avalanches were also reported in northern Afghanistan. The threat for avalanches will remain high into the middle of the week.

People sit around a fire to warm themselves after a heavy snowfall in Quetta, capital of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Severe winter weather has struck parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with heavy snowfall, rains and flash floods that left more than 40 dead, officials said Monday as authorities struggled to clear and reopen highways and evacuate people to safer places. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)

Severe cold weather is also a concern across Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As of Saturday, frigid cold ushered into the area has been blamed for four deaths in Ghazni, Afghanistan.

At least 39 totals deaths have been confirmed due to the winter storm in Afghanistan. The government added that around 300 homes had been destroyed due to flooding and heavy snowfall, according to the AP.

Improved weather is forecast for the region on Wednesday before another storm targets the Kashmir region with some rain and snow on Friday and Saturday.