Thursday, June 1, 2023

Did Or Did Not A Cloudburst Happen In Islamabad? Here’s What Science Says!

On Wednesday, the 28th of July, many areas of Pakistan fell victim to heavy rainfall and massive flooding – the federal capital being hit the hardest.

The natural disaster led to a mother and son losing their lives, with mass destruction all around.

Video footage sprawled across social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, showing cars in E-11 and D-12 being washed away by torrential streams of the flood.

Sources report that a total of 5 vehicles were damaged beyond repair. 

Heavy rains impeded normal life throughout Islamabad, leading to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) starting rescue operations to clear blocked roads across the city.

Moreover, Pak Army troops were deployed in Rawalpindi to assist the civil administration in minimizing further damage. The twin cities are reported to have received the most amount of rainfall this monsoon.

Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat took to Twitter and claimed it was a cloudburst that led to this flooding. He also urged everyone to stay indoors and restrict any unnecessary movement. 

However, the Director-General of Pakistan Meteorological Department, Muhammad Riaz, contradicted DC Islamabad’s statement on a SAMAA TV program, saying: 

“Receiving 123mm rain is very normal during the monsoon season. A cloudburst didn’t lead to floods in Nullah Lei of Rawalpindi either.”

He went on to add that such amounts of rain are probable in the future. So, who’s right and who’s wrong? Was it a cloudburst or not? Let’s find out!

Islamabad Cloudburst: What Science Says

A cloudburst is identified by sudden and heavy rainfall in a shower form. 

Most of the scientific community has consensus on categorizing such instances as cloudbursts if the fall rate is greater than or equal to 100 millimeters or 4.94 inches per hour.

Furthermore, cloudbursts are spatially limited to a small geographical area. It is estimated that over 2 centimeters of rain is possible within a few minutes during a cloudburst.

Ideas such as attributing cloudbursts to actual violent explosions are common misconceptions. This phenomenon is referred to as a “burst” because earlier people held the belief that clouds are solid masses containing water. 

cloudburst Islamabad
Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Now, let’s look at how this definition of a cloudburst ties together with the situation in Islamabad and neighboring areas.

Sources from Pakistan Meteorological Department have confirmed that areas in Islamabad (E-11 and D-12) received up to 330 millimeters of rain in the preceding few hours.

Given that a sudden, aggressive rainfall of around 100mm in one hour circumventing a small area is a cloudburst – it is set in stone, the fact that yes, a cloudburst did happen in Islamabad.

On the contrary, we have places like Golra Sharif and Saidpur village which had 106mm and 128mm of rainfall in 24 hours, respectively. That does not qualify as a cloudburst. 

Having said that, hopefully, this article brings this debate to a logical conclusion – the DC Islamabad was indeed correct in his evaluation of this occurrence as a cloudburst.


An electrical engineering undergrad from NUST with a passion for writing. I like artificial intelligence, philosophy books, and all things art.

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