For Deserts—Location, Location, Location

Sprawling along 22? of latitude, most of the Arabian Desert lies north of the tropic of Cancer. Summer heat reaches temperatures of 129?F (54?C). Although some of the coastal stretches get moisture in the form of ocean fogs at night and in the morning, most of the sandy expanse gets less than 4 inches (100 mm) of rain annually. However, some areas can get up to 20 inches (500 mm) in a wet year and then go for several years without a drop. The desert cools significantly in the winter, particularly on some of the high plateaus and mountain ranges. The coldest temperature recorded was in 1950, about 10?F (–12?C). That cold snap resulted in a dramatically rare dusting of snow.

Strong winds lash the desert, especially in January to December and May to June. These shamals usually blow down along the desert from the north, sometimes steadily at 30 miles an hour for a full month. Utterly dry, the winds move millions of tons of sand in every storm. They spawn whirlwinds called jinn and merciless storms that make it nearly impossible to travel for days at a time. Sometimes storm fronts called “brown rollers” march along on an opaque front of 60 miles (96 km) or more, swirling dust high into the atmosphere and bringing rain in their wake.