December 2012 continued to break precipitation records over the weekend, as heavy rainfall across central and northern Israel filled the Sea of Galilee, swelled rivers and streams and brought 60-70 centimeters of snow to the summit of Mount Hermon.
The Sea of Galilee has now seen the largest December increase in the last 20 years, rising 18 centimeters over the weekend. The Israel Water Authority estimated that the level would rise a further 7 centimeters on Sunday from runoff, bringing the total level to 212 meters below sea level.
The current mark is still an immense three meters, however, below the lake’s “upper red line” – 208.9 meters below sea 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 shore.
On Sunday, Mount Hermon was opened for visitors although authorities said the snowfall was still not sufficient for skiing.
The river system showed abnormally strong flows, with speed and water volume more typical of the spring runoff than winter. On Thursday, the Jordan River recorded a 20-year record flow volume for December — 100 cubic meters per second.
From Thursday to Sunday, heavy precipitation was recorded in northern townships, with Safed receiving 125 millimeters, more than double the December average. The Golan Heights recorded 144 millimeters of rain, and Haifa 104 millimeters. In central Israel, 55 millimeters fell on Jerusalem and 48 millimeters on Tel Aviv.
In the past two decades, Israel has experienced several successions of arid winters, exacerbating 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 of the Mediterranean Sea 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.
Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are expected to bring scattered showers and partly cloudy, cold winter days, with the rest of the week seeing a slight rise in temperatures and no precipitation.
Elie Leshem and Ron Friedman contributed to this report.