The weather has been nearly frigid for Jerusalem, with temperatures hovering around 8 degrees Celsius (46°F) for a chill that feels ״as cold as dogs,” according to meteorologist Boaz Nehemia, who often uses the Russian saying — in Hebrew — on Yerushamayim, his weather website.
Nehemia is the creator of the beloved weather website and app, named for Jerusalem and shamayaim, the skies he watches closely each day.
It has been his passion project for the last 17 years, relating everything about Jerusalem weather, its highs and lows, from hot, sunny skies and bone-dry sandstorms to pelting rains, freezing winds, and the always-hoped for, occasional, snow.
The site is this meteorologist’s response to his love of the weather, and about one million Jerusalemites are avid fans, with more than 19,000 followers on Facebook, over a million views in a month on his website and 120,000 regular users.
It’s the stuff of urban legends.
“There’s nothing more exciting than a person who loves what he does, and creates something original and does it with passion,” said David Ehrlich, another Jerusalem personage who owns the legendary Tmol Shilshom bookstore cafe, and recently hosted Nehemia in December for an evening of weather conversation.
“This man is modest and has a very deep knowledge and understanding of what he does,” Ehrlich said.
Very simply, he loves the weather and wants to help us interpret it.
When it is cold as it has been of late, Nehemia, the ultimate Jewish mother, tells viewers to put on a coat or an extra sweater, relaying whatever information they may need to weather the elements in this hilltop city. For weather, in this city, like many other factors, is never obvious.
“We’re in the desert, we’re far from the source of rain,” he explained. “We get all the crumbs, all the leftovers. A crumb, in weather, is a small cloud that may cause rain to fall in one area of the city and not in another. That makes it hard for the weather forecaster because you may forecast rain that falls in one spot, but not in another.”
The complicated weather operation is run from his home in Nayot, the small, hilly neighborhood adjacent to Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, the Israel Museum and the botanical gardens.
Nehemia’s weather station, a single metal pole with an attached rain collector, temperature measure and solar panel, is bolted to the side of his apartment building, accessed only via the neighboring entrance, and entails a trip by elevator to the top floor through a heavy metal door that leads to the rooftop.
He has another weather station attached to a fence down below and a grass-level measure as well for testing the heat on the ground during the hot summer months.
But much of the work takes place at Nehemia’s small computer work station, situated between the kitchen and the dining room table, where he logs on to colorful weather maps and updates Yerushamayim every ten minutes, particularly during the busier, wintry weather months.
It’s from here that he answers the website forum, Facebook messages, tweets and direct messages from readers. There are tens of thousands of views on the website during the winter months, and a significant drop in interest during the nearly nine months of summer weather, when blue, cloudless skies reign from April through most of November.
“I think it’s one of the best projects in Israel,” said Eyal Gur, a Jerusalem resident who works in branding and is an avid Yerushamayim follower. “It’s not just weather, it’s something social, and it’s exact, we know exactly what’s happening here, in language that’s very clear. It’s just a brilliant brand, and Tel Aviv doesn’t have it, that’s what’s important!”
Of course, what gets Jerusalemites most excited about the weather is the possibility of snow, said Nehemia.
“They want to know if it’s going to snow, and if it’s going to be bad weather during their bar mitzvah celebrations, that’s it,” he said.
“Rain really interests people, and they want to know what’s happening minute by minute,” said Nehemia. “If there’s lightning, after 20 seconds, the entries into the site jump. When bad weather is coming, there’s a huge increase of entries, and when snow does fall, there’s a slowdown because everyone is outside playing in the snow.”
There are also those particularly avid viewers who want to know how strong the rainfall is, or how much is falling, minute by minute.
“Those are the weather freaks,” said Nehemia, and he wasn’t referring to himself, either.
There’s actually only about 62 days of rain a year in Jerusalem, compared to around 150 or 180 in a city like New York. That’s a little less than there used to be, as November and March were once fairly wintry months, but the weather in recent years is more springlike.
As for the bar (and bat) mitzvah forecasts, Nehemia doesn’t like to predict more than three or four days ahead, because he believes that’s as exact as one can get with the weather. He does offer week forecasts, but it’s more of an indication and less precise.
As for snow, it’s also iffy to predict. Snow tends to fall two out of every three winters, but the pattern changed in recent years to three to four years of no snow, and then three to four years of relatively heavy snowfalls for Jerusalem.
Global warming? Not necessarily, said Nehemia.
“You could say that it’s warmer now, but the 1950s and 1960s were very warm winters, and the 1970s and 1980s were cold and wet and the 1990s and 2000s have been dryer and warmer,” he said. “So, yes, there’s climate change and humans have to work not to bother the earth, but it’s hard to say if it’s all that different.”
Besides the heavy-duty winter weather, Nehemia is also currently dealing with the temporary fall of the Makam, or RADAR, the national electronic system for detecting objects in space, including aircraft, missile, spaceships, and, weather systems. The temporary loss of the system limits him from doing short-term, minute-by-minute weather warnings, something he loves to do, particularly during storms.
It’s that kind of regular updating that keeps this weather forecaster somewhat tense.
“I’m stressed all the time,” said Nehemia. “Will it turn out the way I said? Will the rain arrive on time? I’m thinking about it all the time.”
It’s Nehemia’s dedication that stunned Tmol Shilshom’s Ehrlich.
“It amazed me that he does the whole thing alone, only him,” said Ehrlich, who’s planning another event with Nehemia. “When he’s on vacation, he does it from afar. He’s totally enslaved to this, but that doesn’t bother him.”
Nehemia has a degree in atmospheric science and economics from Hebrew University, after growing up obsessed about the weather (and nature). He grew up in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, where he loved nothing more than to stare out the window at the different weather formations, in order to understand the effects of nature and weather.
He snagged one of Israel’s few meteorological jobs before graduating, although a privatization process at the airport caused a series of layoffs of weather forecasters, and he ended up working in high-tech as a programmer.
During a 2001 layoff from a startup, Nehemia had some time to himself, and bought his first weather station. He set up the early version of Yerushamayim, with a camera installed at his parents’ home in Gilo, offering a full view of Jerusalem from the southern neighborhood.
During those first years, he forecast only a small amount of information, expanding it more considerably a few years later.
In 2012, a Bezalel Academy art student offered to design his website for her graduation project, and he gradually added more detailed forecasts, information and regular communication with his followers through the Yerushamayim forum.
He’s kept his day job, handling technology matters for the Education Ministry, and while there is some revenue from Yerushamayim, thanks to VIP services and a little advertising, this meteorologist doesn’t made his predictions for the money.
“I love the weather,” he said. “I say get interested in the weather, in every kind of cloud there is.”