Heavy rains and high winds swept through the country Tuesday night and Wednesday morning as a major wintry storm descended upon the country. Hail and light snow were reported in the north, with the snow expected to intensify and spread to central Israel throughout Wednesday.
Blackouts were reported in several cities as knocked-over trees hit power lines in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Acre, Netanyah and other locations.
In Petah Tikva a tree fell on a bus carrying passengers, but no one was hurt. In Haifa street power cables were torn from their posts and fell onto the pavement, prompting police to close off the area. In Kiryat Haim, Rishon Lezion and Nahariya, fallen trees and lampposts blocked several roads.
Heavy snow was falling on the northern Mount Hermon Tuesday night, and some snowfall was reported in the Golan Heights and the Upper Galilee. Snow was expected to accumulate throughout the day and cause disruptions in northern locales from 600 meters above sea level.
Jerusalem was also expected to receive its first snowflakes in the morning or early afternoon, with some areas in the capital and its surrounding mountains expected to see a buildup of 30 centimeters (1 foot) of snow or more.
Authorities have also warned of possible flooding in towns in central Israel as well as flash floods in rivers and streams in the Judean Desert and Jordan Valley, and sandstorms in the south.
The Jerusalem municipality canceled school in the capital on Wednesday as the country geared up for the storm.
The Jerusalem school directive applies to all elementary and high schools, kindergartens, and daycare centers. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced that all classes would be canceled on Wednesday and Thursday.
Shortly after the Jerusalem municipality announcement, the Education Ministry said schools would also be closed Wednesday in the Etzion bloc, Hebron, and the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council.
In preparation for the blizzard, the IDF sent tanks to elevated areas in northern Israel that may be cut off due to the snowstorm.
Some 1,000 soldiers were deployed to northern Israel and Jerusalem to assist residents during the storm, the Ynet news website reported. The soldiers sent are members of engineering, paratroopers, and home front command units, and in Jerusalem, will ensure that the hospitals remain accessible.
Heavy pollution was seen nationwide Tuesday, with the western Negev seeing 38 times more pollution than its normal rates, as Jerusalem’s pollution went up 25-fold.
In Beersheba, the pollution was recorded at 31 times its normal level, according to the Walla news website. The pollution was expected to continue through Wednesday, and people with heart conditions, pregnant women, and the elderly were advised to avoid any strenuous outdoor activity.
The approaching storm, coming a little over a year after a massive winter storm walloped the country, leaving areas without electricity, water or road access for days, has spurred a flurry of preparations in the Jerusalem area.
Police plan to close roads in and out of the capital as the snow begins or even an hour before on Wednesday to keep cars from becoming stuck on main arteries in a repeat of the December 2013 storm.
Jerusalemites spent the early part of the week making runs to local supermarkets to stock up on dairy products, water, canned goods, oil, and flour. Some supermarkets in the capital saw their supply of water and fresh meat run out on Tuesday.
Many stores also ran out of gas heaters as residents attempted to prepare for prolonged power cuts and frigid temperatures.
The Shufersal chain saw a spike in purchases in recent days at its Jerusalem and Safed branches, as did Rami Levy supermarkets in Jerusalem and the Etzion bloc, the Walla news site reported.
“We are talking about a growth of 250 percent from an average weekday,” said Rami Levy, head of the eponymous chain. “People are buying everything, but primarily meat for Shabbat, baby products, and drinks, especially mineral water. They are afraid of being stuck without food on Shabbat, and are buying enough to last even till Sunday.”
Levy told Walla that his branches would remain open during the storm.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participated in a planning meeting Tuesday ahead of the storm. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and district police chief Chico Edri also took part in the meeting, along with IDF, emergency services, and welfare services representatives.
“We have three missions,” said Netanyahu. “The first mission is saving lives, the second mission is continuing vital services, and the third mission is mutual help — residents helping residents.”
An announcement by the Jerusalem municipality said that police would shut down Routes 1 and 443 in and out of the city once snow began falling. The municipality also asked residents to refrain from non-critical travel.
Israel Railways planned to increase its service from Jerusalem’s Malha train station.
The Jerusalem hotline for updates is *8787.
Intermittent snow and cold weather was forecast into Sunday.
Some forecasts predicted as much as two feet of snow (62 centimeters) for higher elevations in northern Israel and in the high-altitude Etzion Bloc, south of Jerusalem.
Barkat asked Jerusalem residents to take responsibility for their homes and to be proactive in checking on their neighbors.
He added that snowplows were ready and waiting to clear the roads, after which they will be reopened to traffic. There are 150 snowplows available to clear the capital’s roads, significantly more than the 90 that struggled to handle last year winter’s snowstorm.
The IDF Home Front Command urged residents to prepare water, dry goods, emergency flashlights and batteries, warm clothes and blankets, a radio with batteries, a fully charged cellphone and spare battery, and a generator, in addition to checking gutters and tree branches that could fall during the storm.
Municipal authorities in Jerusalem on Sunday began pruning dangerous branches on trees in public areas as well as conducting road inspections to look for potential trouble spots, Walla reported.
Unstable buildings were also being reviewed, and the city hall made arrangements with towing services to quickly remove stranded cars to prevent blocked roads.
Firefighters and the municipal water board were both put on alert to deal with any emergencies or flooding in low places where the expected rain might gather.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.