At long last, the much-anticipated snow arrived in Jerusalem on Wednesday after days of heavy rains and fierce winds that caused power outages and widespread flooding. School have been called off for Thursday in the Golan Heights and parts of the West Bank, and Jerusalem’s silent streets are calm and snowy. The Times of Israel liveblogged The big storm of 2013 until our frozen fingers stuck to our keyboards and our coffee reserves ran out.
Good night, and stay warm.
PREAMBLE: Good morning! Hope you’re somewhere dry. It’s set to be the wettest, snowiest day to date of The Big Storm of 2013. We’re in for a pounding, with the cold spell expected to peak this afternoon and evening, with ceaseless rain turning into snow at high altitudes.
As the rain pour down, overflowing rivers in the north have been feeding into the Sea of Galilee, which has risen by 15 centimeters in the last 24 hours. Mount Hermon has received more than a meter of snow.
The storm is expected to weaken on Thursday, although it is still predicted to be very cold, with snowfall continuing in mountainous areas and flooding in lower areas.
We’ve already had some close calls with the extreme weather. The Israeli Navy was sent into the coastal city of Hadera late Tuesday night to help rescue residents stranded by massive flooding.
Large parts of the city, located approximately halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, were left without power when water flooded the local sub-station of the Israel Electric Corporation.
By early Wednesday morning, electricians had restored power to most residents, and authorities said many roads in the city had been reopened.
School is cancelled in the northern city of Safed due to stormy weather.
Likewise, in the Tamar Regional Council area near the Dead Sea, school has been cancelled because of flooding. Some lessons will be conducted over the Internet.
With snowfall expected to begin accumulating in the capital at around noon, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat urges residents to act responsibly.
“I ask people to avoid using their vehicles at 1 p.m., when the snow begins to pile up. As long as everybody acts responsibly, I don’t anticipate any problems. Public transportation will continue its regular service and municipal snowplows will be dispatched to clear any pile ups and salt the roads to prevent ice from forming,” says Barkat.
“After the weather clears up, I am happy to invite everyone to come see our beautiful city in white,” he adds.
Schools in the city will close at noon today.
Ten centimeters of snow accumulated in the Golan Heights overnight and snow plows are now clearing major roads.
Mount Hermon, in the far north, received a meter of snow. The ski resort, on the mountain’s southern slopes, says it will be closed until the storm is over.
Two train stations remain closed in Tel Aviv. The Savidor and Haganah stations are out of service due to a problem on the rail tracks. Technicians are working to fix the lines.
Ben Gurion airport is operating according to schedule however work at the sea ports of Ashdod and Haifa has been suspended.
The Ayalon Highway, that was flooded on Tuesday, is open and traffic is flowing.
Israel Prison Services is evacuating 160 inmates from the Shita Prison, in the Harod Valley, after overnight rainfall caused extensive flooding in the penitentiary.
Prisoners, most of them high security inmates, are being transferred to facilities in the south.
Rescue crews are extracting children from a school bus that got stuck in a large puddle in East Jerusalem. Seven children are reportedly in the vehicle.
The Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv was temporarily closed Tuesday due to the incessant rains that police feared would cause the adjoining Ayalon River to overflow. According to reports, the water levels at the HaShalom intersection in central Tel Aviv reached 40 centimeters by mid-day. But these three weren’t so concerned about traffic, choosing to take their inner tubes for a ride down the river.
Even the prime minister is getting involved in storm preparedness. Benjamin Netanyahu will meet later today with Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino to discuss ways to deal with the stormy weather. The meeting is scheduled to take place in Beit Dagan, a small town south of Tel Aviv, home to Israel’s meteorological center.
Police and rescue crews complete the extraction of the children whose school bus was stuck in a large East Jerusalem puddle.
Initial investigations reveal the vehicle’s driver attempted to drive through a tunnel that was flooded. Firefighters are on the scene towing the vehicle out of the water.
Most of the trains are working again, Israel Railways reports. The technical issue between Tel Aviv’s Central Station, Savidor Merkaz, and Haganah has been resolved. Congestion in other areas continues. The Ministry of Transportation asks commuters to use public transportation rather than private vehicles if possible.
Snow is falling in the mountains in the southern West Bank, near Hebron and the settlement of Kiryat Arba.
Children are currently being sent home from school in Kiryat Arba, and the Har Hebron regional council’s school system will shortly decide on whether or not to close schools for the day as well.
Schools in eight regional councils are closed today because of the bad weather according to a list released by the Ministry of Education. Most of the schools are located in the mountain regions of the Golan Heights, the upper Galilee and the West Bank.
In Jerusalem, pupils will be sent home at 12 p.m.
A driver extricates himself from his car that was swept into the Kishon River in Kiryat Tivon, located outside Haifa. The man isn’t injured, and he’s transferred to a nearby fire truck.
As Israel continues to remain awash with heavy rains the United States has just recorded its hottest year ever.
Government figures show that in 2012 the average annual US temperature went up to 55.32 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s a full degree warmer than the old record set in 1998.
My daughter has snow on her arm, an excited Jerusalem resident writes from Talpiot. “Quick, get the iPhone.” “Ok, here goes!”
District and magistrate’s courts in the capital are operating on an emergency schedule due to the stormy weather. The High Court of Justice will continue operating as usual.
A Palestinian official says the fiercest storm to hit the area in a decade has claimed the lives of two West Bank women who drowned after their car was caught in a flash flood unleashed by torrential rains.
Nablus deputy governor Annan Atirah says the women abandoned their vehicle after it got stuck on a flooded road Tuesday. He says the bodies, apparently swept away by surging waters, were found Wednesday, and the car’s driver was hospitalized in critical condition.
In Gaza, civil defense spokesman Mohammed al-Haj Yousef said storms have cut electricity powering thousands of homes and rescuers were sent to evacuate dozens of people.
The biblical weather — or Geshempocalypse — as ToI resident blogger Benji Lovitt has dubbed it — has brought about its share of memes and Photoshopped images, many shared on Facebook and on other social media platforms. For those who haven’t caught them, here are a few of the best ones:
The IDF Spokesman’s Office is reporting that Golani Brigade soldiers are currently holding the observation posts and high ridges of the Galilee panhandle and assures that the small bases there have been stocked with food for at least a week.
The high ridge of Har Dov, where Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet, is already inundated with snow and is being supplied by three snow cats, which will deliver soldiers and supplies as necessary.
In the far south, especially in the Negev territory patrolled by the Sagi and Arava regional brigades, army engineering crews are being deployed to open roads after flash floods.
“Usually after flash floods there are access routes that collapse, causing severe damage to infrastructure, which leads to limited operational access,” says commander of logistical engineering in the Southern Command, Major Kobi Cohen. Cohen says his crews will work to restore damage.
Military sappers have been deployed and are equipped to deal with mines that may be swept from the earth by the floods.
Ynet reports that police rescued six vehicles that were caught in a snow drift at Elram Junction on the Golan. Heavy snow continues to fall on the mountainous region. Police warn drivers to stay away from inaccessible areas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting at the Israel Police traffic control center in Beit Dagan to oversee the unit’s preparations for the snowy weather.
Netanyahu thanks the officers for their diligence, crediting them with helping prevent loss of life, as he looks at television monitors showing traffic flow across the country.
Netanyahu urges the public to listen to the police’s instructions and drive carefully.
To encourage residents not to drive their private cars, Jerusalem is making city buses and the light rail free to all passengers after 7 p.m., and possibly Thursday, if the snow continues to fall.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz says he made the decision to try to prevent people from driving their own cars. Public transportation operators will be paid by the Ministry of Transportation, he adds.
The ministry is expecting many visitors to come to the city to see the snow on Thursday.
Magon David Adom says that since Sunday night it has treated 70 people who were injured as a result of the stormy weather, including one fatality. On Tuesday a man in his 80s died during a blaze in his home that was apparently started by a short-circuit in his electric blanket.
A woman in her 60s was seriously injured by a rock slide while making a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Ha’Ness.
Other injuries include those caused by hypothermia, windblown objects, and fallen trees, MDA says.
In addition, 285 car accident casualties received treatment. Three died of their injuries.
A 30-year-old resident of Ashdod is taken to hospital after repeatedly jumping into the swelling Lachish river, even after being pulled out by police and rescue crews.
The man, who is believed to be mentally unstable, was rushed to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, where he is being treated for moderate injuries.
Here are a few pictures that convey the look and feel of Big Storm of 2013, Geshempocalypse, or whatever you like to call it.
It’s the rainiest winter Israel’s had in years, and the water level in the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main source of freshwater, is on the rise.
Over the past four days, the Sea of Galilee’s water level swelled by 38 centimeters, bringing it to 270 centimeters below its upper red line marker — 208.9 meters below sea level — the point at which Degania Dam is opened to allow an increased flow into the Jordan River and prevent the lake from flooding the city of Tiberias and other towns along its coast.
Last month, the water level rose by its highest amount for a December since 1994.
Israel’s Chief Rabbinate issues a special prayer of thanksgiving for the bountiful rains that have flooded the country and caused hundreds of millions of shekels in damage.
Evoking imagery employed in the Biblical story of Noah, the blessing reads: “With joy and elation we are happy that the Lord opened the floodgates of the heavens and bestowed on his people and his land the gift of blessed rains.”
The rabbinate also notifies on its website that the kosher slaughterer certification exam has been postponed due to the inclement weather.
Two teams of firefighters rescue two adults and two children whose jeep was swept away by rushing torrents of water near the Beit Zayit dam in Ein Kerem, outside Jerusalem. The trapped passengers of the vehicle were on the roof of the jeep when they were rescued.
A minibus carrying teens near the town of Betzet in the western Galilee collides on Route 899 with a car, moderately injuring the driver of the bus and lightly injuring the teens therein. The driver is taken to the nearby hospital in Nahariya, and the road is closed to traffic.
As night falls in Jerusalem, the snow starts accumulating on the ground. Alon Diamant-Cohen, a resident of Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood, publishes a photo of the thickening blanket of white on the streets.
Times of Israel writer Gabe Fisher reports from the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo that there is enough snow on the ground to build a (diminutive but adorable) snowman.
Youtube user Weather2daycoil posts a video of snow falling in the northern city of Safed.
Down south, in the Gaza Strip coastal city of Rafah, Palestinian residents paddle their way around the flooded streets of the city.
Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich joins the hordes of Israelis tweeting, instagramming, youtubing and facebooking about the wintry weather and compares flooding in the central plain town of Bat Hefer to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
“Hi, it’s Shelly!” she posts on her Facebook wall. “A tsunami wave of rain and sewage three meters high coming from the Nablus River broke the security barrier and washed over the town of Bat Hefer. We are returning from [Bat Hefer] now and the scenes remind us of the  tsunami in Thailand.”
Over 200,000 people died in the 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia, Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka and is widely regarded as one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.
No deaths were recorded in Bat Hefer. Approximately 300 homes were flooded and hundreds were evacuated.
Limited power outages are reported in parts of all of Israel’s major population centers, Jerusalem, Haifa, Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv, according to Israel Radio.
The Israel Electric Corporation also reports blackouts in areas of Afula, Hadera, Zichron Ya’akov, Ra’anana, Ashkelon, Netanya, and other cities due to the high winds and rain, Ynet reports.
According to the Ynet report, one percent of the homes in Israel, or approximately 20,000 customers, are without power on account of damaged power lines.
The company says its employees are prepared for the snow in Jerusalem, and thousands of its workers are fixing problems with the grid across the country.