What is the terrain and geography like in Saudi Arabia?
The country is divided administratively into 14 provinces, including the Hijaz, the Asir, the Nejd, Al-Hasa, and the Northern Province, each headed by a governor or emir. The topography varies from vast stretches of sand to rugged mountain ranges. From the Gulf of Aqaba south to Yemen lies a dry, narrow coastal plain bordering the Red Sea. East of the plain, a narrow chain of mountains rises to 9,000 feet. This entire region, traditionally called the Hijaz, is now known as the Western Region. The same mountain chain rises to 12,000 feet and becomes more rugged in the south near Yemen. This portion, known as the Asir, has more rainfall than any other part of the country. Its dense population, villages, terraced farms, and green forests are more reminiscent of Africa than the Desert Kingdom.
The Nejd, the heartland of Saudi Arabia, is the ancestral home of the Al-Saud, the Kingdom’s ruling family. This area contains the heaviest concentration of nomadic Bedouin, who still lead their flocks of sheep, goats, and camels across the land in search of pastures. But the Bedouin are modernizing, and water trucks are now common sights near their tent encampments.
The Eastern Province, Al-Hasa, although largely desert, contains most of the nation's oilfields. Besides oil, two large oases, Qatif and Hofuf, support substantial agricultural production. Most activity and population are centered around the market city of Al-Khobar; Dhahran, site of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (ARAMCO) complex; and the busy port of Dammam.
Jeddah, the commercial center, has a tropical climate — mild in winter and hot and very humid in summer. Summer lasts 8 to 10 months, with temperatures moderating in November. Relief from the heat often comes at sunset when sea breezes arrive. Except on the few occasions when it rains, the sun shines daily. Winter is comparable to the spring and summer seasons of resorts on the Mediterranean Sea.
Dhahran’s climate, like that of Jeddah, is very humid, 60% – 90%, with summer lasting from April through October. The average maximum shade temperature in July and August is 110 °F, with "in sun" temperatures up to 150 °F. From December to April, it is cooler and pleasant, with indoor heating required at times, especially in the areas north of Dhahran.
Rainfall in both Jeddah and Dhahran is sparse, about 3 – 4 inches a year concentrated in a few heavy showers during fall and spring.