Three solid days of rainfall across the country has water authority officials calling the the winter of 2012-13 the wettest since 2004.
In the north of the country, rivers — often just trickling even at this time of the year — can be seen gushing with force as they collect the torrents from the surrounding tributaries, expanding in width tenfold.
Many of the measuring stations in the north reported more than 100 millimeters of precipitation Friday since the beginning of the storm. The largest amount of rainfall, 135 millimeters, was recorded in Kibbutz Eylon in the Western Galilee. The kibbutz experienced the most rainfall in the country and also broke its own record for precipitation in a 24-hour period.
Mount Hermon, in Israel’s far north border with Syria, was hit with 30-40 centimeters of snowfall, a rare occurrence so early in the year.
The level of the Sea of Galilee, one of the country’s primary sources of water for home and agricultural use, is headed for an almost-20-year high at this time of year, with water levels rising nearly 10 centimeters (4 inches) in the last 24 hours alone. Since the first rainfall of the year, on October 29, the lake’s level has risen 26 centimeters more, settling, for now, at 212.18 meters below sea level.
Tel Aviv experienced a modest 10 millimeters of rainfall in the past 48 hours, but it was enough to get the current flowing in the Ayalon River, which flows alongside the city’s major north-south highway.
Jerusalem experienced 35 millimeters of rainfall in the past three days.
The bountiful rains didn’t come without a cost. Fallen trees and broken electricity cables caused blackouts in several locations around the country. Wet roads and poor visibility were responsible for two fatal car accidents.
Heavy rain was expected to continue throughout the weekend, before subsiding slightly on Sunday evening and Monday.
“This is clearly a much better start [to the winter] than we were expecting,” said Dr. Amir Givati, the head of the Surface Water and Hydrometeorology Department at the Israel Water Authority. “We expected it to be good, but not this good.”
Givati said that the increased precipitation – so far, up to 40 or 50 percent more rain in the North than is usual for this time of year – was evident in an increased volume of water flowing through streams and brooks, the Hebrew daily Maariv reported.
“To see the Jordan River flowing at this time of year – that’s a phenomenon that takes place once every 20 years,” he said. “Streams like Ayun and Sa’ar usually begin to run only in the spring, but this year we’re already seeing them gushing. During the last rainy Saturday there were flows of a magnitude [for December] that haven’t been recorded since 1994, and that’s before Saturday, which is also expected to be rainy.”
“Our estimate at the beginning of the winter,” Givati said, “was that we were facing an average winter. Today we believe that it will be average and even more – at least in the north of the country…. According to our calculations, if the [precipitation this] winter will turn out be average, the level [of the Sea of Galilee] at the end of the season will be 210.8 meters below sea level – only two meters below the lake’s ‘upper red line.’ Of course, if rainfall exceeds the multi-year average, the level will be even higher.”
The “upper red line,” 208.9 meters below sea level, is the level at which the Degania Dam is opened to allow an increased flow into the Jordan and prevent the lake from flooding the city of Tiberias and other towns along its coast.
In the past two decades, Israel has experienced several successions of arid winters, exacerbating existing concerns that the country was overdrawing from the Sea of Galilee and from its aquifers and increasing the risk of rendering its fresh-water reserves undrinkable.
Several desalination plants have been established along the coastline in recent years, with others in the pipeline, but despite being an international leader in this area, Israel still relies on rain for much of its water needs.
Elie Leshem contributed to this report.