Saudi Arabia comprises the greater part of the Arabian Peninsula. It is a large country, most of which is desert. It is bordered on the north by Jordan and Iraq. In the east of Saudi Arabia there is a short coastline on the Gulf but there are land borders with the small Gulf states of Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. There is a long land border with Oman and with Yemen on the south. In the southwest of the peninsula it also borders Yemen, to the north of which it has a long coastline on the Red Sea. The general features of the weather and climate of Arabia are described here and only briefer descriptions of the other states of the peninsula are given under the separate country headings.
Most of the Arabian Peninsula is desert with a low and unreliable rainfall. Where the rainfall is greater, this is a result of higher mountainous areas where the lower temperatures produce some relief from the fierce, dry summer heat. Most of the peninsula consists of a rolling plateau of low to medium elevation which slopes northeastwards from a higher mountainous rim on the west to a low plain on the shores of the Gulf.
In the southwest the mountains of the Asir province of Saudi Arabia and of Yemen rise to between 2,400 m/8,000 ft and 3,600 m/12,000 ft. In the northeast of the peninsula the Jabal Akhdar mountains of Oman rise to just over 3,000 m/10,000 ft. Along the south coast of the peninsula there is a narrow coastal plain on the Arabian Sea. This is separated from the sandy desert of the Rub' al Khali by ranges of hills in Hadhramaut and Dhofar. At the foot of the western mountains there is a narrow coastal plain fronting the Red Sea, behind which there is a steep rise inland so that the climate of the plain is hotter and more humid than that found inland.
Only in the higher areas, the mountains of Yemen and Oman, does the annual rainfall exceed 400 mm/20 in. Elsewhere it is low and unreliable; below 200 mm/8 in and often less than 100 mm/4 in. North of Jiddah, Riyadh, and Muscat rainfall is almost confined to the period from November to April or May and is brought by weak disturbances coming from the Mediterranean or North Africa. In the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula and particularly in the mountains of Yemen and Oman some rain may fall in any month; along the south coast and in Yemen mountains it falls mainly in the period May to October, when it is associated with the southwest monsoon which dominates the Arabian Sea and India at this time.
Over much of the Arabian Peninsula, with the exception of the mountains, temperatures from May to September rise very high and this is one of the few areas of the world where temperatures above 48°C/120°F are not unusual. Inland the daytime humidity falls quite low and there is usually a sharp drop of temperature at night. Although midday temperatures do not rise so high on the coast, conditions here may be even more uncomfortable because of the high humidity; the nights are particularly unpleasant. This can be seen by comparing the tables for Riyadh and Jiddah in Saudi Arabia with those for Kuwait and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. These last two stations are on the Gulf coast while Jiddah is on the Red Sea coast.
In the interior, and in the higher mountains in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, winter temperatures occasionally fall low enough for frost and snow to occur. Winter nights in the desert are distinctly chilly. Any strong wind is likely to raise dust and sand which can add to the unpleasant conditions, whether it is a cold winter blast or a burning dry wind in summer. Sunshine amounts are very large over most of the Arabian Peninsula, ranging from six to eight hours a day in winter to as much as twelve to thirteen in summer. In the mountains of Yemen and in the hills facing the Arabian Sea in Oman and Muscat, the period from June to September is much cloudier than elsewhere in the peninsula, since the dominant southwest monsoon is very warm and moist; low clouds, drizzle, and light rain are frequent.
Any visitor to the states of the Arabian Peninsula should be prepared for very hot conditions between May and October. Both in the very hot, dry interior and on the muggy coasts of the Gulf and Red Sea there are occasions when heat exhaustion and heatstroke can be a threat, particularly to new arrivals and those who do not take sensible precautions.
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