Qatar: Weather Overview
Qatar has an arid desert climate characterised by unbearably hot summers, pleasantly warm winters, plenty of sunshine and laughably little rain. As in any desert, the drop in temperature from day to night is large, decreasing by more than 10°C in the driest months. Qatar's landscape is flat and sandy with a few low hills and a limestone plateau. The absence of large topographical features means little regional climate variation, though coastal regions are slightly more moderate. Qatar sits on a peninsula sticking out into the Persian Gulf. It shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia in the south. Bahrain, an island kingdom, sits not far across the Gulf of Bahrain to the northwest, and a few of Bahrainâs smaller islands sit just off the west coast of Qatar. Qatar has a very similar climate to Saudi Arabia but is slightly hotter than Bahrain due to its southerly location and connection to the mainland.
Summer, from May till October, is not a good time for visiting Qatar. The average high temperature, already in the high 30s, careens up into the low 40s, and can sometimes get much higher; the highest recorded temperature in the capital city of Doha is 45°C. If you think you can handle the outdoor heat for any length of time you must be crackers. Even at night with extreme insolation caused by clear skies and aridity, the average low temperature only gets just under 30°C. Coastal areas in other countries usually have their temperatures moderated by sea currents and breezes, but the Persian Gulf is a shallow, inland sea, only connected to the Arabian Sea by the Gulf of Oman. As a result, the Gulfâs waters are much more susceptible to seasonal temperature changes, getting up to 33°C in September and October, and so afford its surrounding land little moderation.
The country and its surrounding regions are often treated to the hot, dry north shamal winds that stir up clouds of dust and when at their strongest, cause violent sandstorms. Sandstorms are no fun at all; they mask the sun and reduce visibility to a few metres. Transportation grinds to a halt as driving conditions become dangerous and planes have to ground â" not that youâd consider going outdoors to have your skin sanded raw. Similar weather can also be blown up from the southwest, originating in the Sahara.
Rain is highly unlikely throughout this season which is practically one long drought, that doesnât necessarily end with the coming of winter. If it does rain it is likely to do so in a short, dramatic downpour, as at any time of year. Despite the lack of rain summer months can become horribly humid due to high levels of evaporation from the surrounding Gulf waters. This can also cause hazy conditions, especially at the beginning of summer. However, it is very rarely cloudy and the sun comes out for around eleven hours every day.
Winter, from November till April, is pleasantly hot with cold nights. The average high is still around 30°C at the beginning and end of the season but drops rapidly to the low 20s. January is coldest and Doha experiences an average high of 22°C during this month. Night times quickly become chilly with average lows dropping below 15°C from mid-December. It regularly gets below 10°C inland but does not really get down to freezing as in the Sahara. This is the best time to visit Qatar to avoid excessive summer heat, though warm clothing is essential for the desert nights. Again, the sea does little to moderate the cool temperatures of Qatar, itself getting down to 20°C.
Rain is a bit of a joke in Qatar. Annual rain amounts to 100 mm on average, though it is very erratic from year to year. It falls in heavy but short-lived downpours that often cause flash flooding. Water sinks through the sand or sits on top of the cracked earth to evaporate with the coming of the sun. Rain is most likely to fall between December and March though on average falls on around four days per month for the whole season. These quick storms develop from the more abundant cloud cover seen in the winter season, which slightly reduces sunshine levels. The sun shines for around eight hours per day which is still very sunny for winter. It would be ridiculous to choose to visit Qatar in the summer, for this reason, trading winterâs pleasant temperatures for a few extra hours of sun.
Humidity in the winter is very low, despite the slightly increased rainfall, due to lower levels of evaporation from the sea. The sea is certainly still warm enough for swimming and feels almost bizarrely warm at night when the air temperature drops so low.
Qatarâs heat, lack of rain and lengthy coastline with abundant white beaches and coral have seen it become a popular holiday destination in recent years. Doha Corniche is its most heavily visited resort. While most of Qatar is a barren desert, its urban centres are highly developed. The most common complaints of Qatar are its lack of soul and eager perpetuation of Western fantasies of Arabia. Huge, modern developments from the towering offices and mega-hotels to mock-traditional quarters all seem rather artificial. The feverish building, drilling for oil and the tourist industry has severely damaged Qatarâs environment, endangering animals and water sources and damaging coral.
While Qatar has made great strides towards improving its human rights, torture and inhumane punishments are still a problem. As always, women are worst off; their expected code of conduct is highly restrictive and police often fail to see violence against them as a criminal offence, especially if occurring within the family. Sharia law is only applied to Muslims but non-Muslim visitors should still be careful and women must remember to dress conservatively away from the beach. Crime is low and tourists are generally very safe.