A major winter storm hit Israel on Wednesday, bringing flooding downpours and damaging winds before giving way to snow and ice as temperatures in much the country hovered near freezing.
There were several reports of floods, blocked roads, and downed trees throughout the day.
Snow began falling in mountainous areas of the country after nightfall Wednesday, hitting the Golan Heights, Galilee, and high sections of the West Bank southeast of Jerusalem, including Hebron.
Flakes were expected to begin falling in Jerusalem and other areas as well as temperatures dropped further into Thursday, with some snow accumulation expected.
There were several incidents of people caught in flash floods that swept their cars away.
One man was reported missing after storm waters rushed through a wadi where he was hiking in the Judean desert.
Flash flood chasers streamed down to wadis around the Dead Sea region in the hope of catching the storm waters as they pounded down from the Jerusalem mountains, but some became trapped as roads were flooded in the surge.
Jerusalem saw some 50 millimeters of precipitation between 8 a.m. Tuesday and 4 p.m. Wednesday, and Tel Aviv saw some 41 millimeters over the same period.
The early winter storm began Tuesday and brought high winds on Wednesday, causing property damage around the country.
A woman in her 50s was lightly injured by a falling branch in Kfar Chabad in central Israel on Wednesday. Paramedics performed first aid on the woman before sending her to the hospital.
In Ashdod the wind blew a shed into an electric pylon, causing it to collapse onto a truck as its driver sat inside. Due to high voltage in a power line that was touching the vehicle, rescue services were unable to reach the trapped driver until power in the area was shut. The man was evacuated unharmed.
A tree was blown across Route 234 near Lachish, blocking both lanes until it was cleared away, and in Nahal Kidon a car carrying two people was swept along in flash flood. Rescue teams scrambled to help but the occupants were able to escape, although their vehicle was left behind in the water. In Rishon Lezion an eight-story building was flooded due to a blockage in the roof drainage system causing damage to the 40 apartments below.
According to Israel’s Water Authority, the Galilee and Sharon region received 30-40 millimeters of precipitation overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday. The water level in the Sea of Galilee rose a centimeter as well.
Jerusalem authorities have prepared to counter what snow does stick, with 90 tons of salt as well as snowplows being readied. Other municipalities in the country’s north were also bracing for snowfall, notably Safed and neighboring towns in the mountainous northern Galilee and elevated communities in the Golan Heights.
“Snow in Jerusalem is a cause for celebration for Jerusalemites and the many visitors who come to see the world’s most beautiful city painted white,” said Mayor Nir Barkat, who dropped in on the city’s public works department to check on preparations for the storm. “We hope the snow won’t disappoint, especially for Jerusalem’s excited children, who are looking forward to it.”
Twenty-five to 30 centimeters of snow were reported on the Israeli summit of Mount Hermon, with up to two meters anticipated by the storm’s end.
Schools in some northern Arab towns were closed Wednesday due to the heavy rain. The Education Ministry said it would open a situation room early Thursday morning to provide live updates on possible school closures. The situation room number is 02-6222211
Emergency and disaster services across the country were on high alert in preparation for the multi-day storm, while hospital emergency rooms warned of a potential disaster that the coming winter could bring, given over-burdened staff and a lack of hospital beds.
“We are in a state of perpetual war,” Pini Halpern, chief of emergency medicine at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center, told Yedioth Ahronoth.
Tel Aviv and other cities prepared their drainage systems and readied for high coastal winds.
Last January, a massive rain storm flooded the center of the country, bringing Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv to a halt, disrupting train services and closing roads leading in and out of central Israel.
Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.