Jerusalem braces for snow as torrential rains sweep Israel

Meteorological Service issues severe flood warning; Mt. Hermon buried under a blanket of white; some schools close in the north

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

A toddler rides a tricycle through puddles on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, Wednesday, December 11, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A toddler rides a tricycle through puddles on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, Wednesday, December 11, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A major winter storm that hit Israel Tuesday evening was expected to last through the weekend, bringing rain, high winds and snow in mountains and central uplands, including Jerusalem.

According to Israel’s Water Authority, the Galilee and Sharon region received 30-40 millimeters of precipitation overnight. The water level in the Sea of Galilee rose a centimeter as well.

Tuesday started clear or partly cloudy and unseasonably cold, but high winds and rain began along the coast in the evening, followed by showers, thunderstorms, high winds and snow on Mount Hermon.

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.

The Israel Meteorological Service forecast strong rain with thunderstorms and powerful winds Wednesday from the Galilee and Golan Heights through the northern Negev.

The IMS also issued warnings for rough seas and possible flooding on Wednesday. “Severe flood warning for Israel’s north, and for the central and southern coastal plain,” read an IMS bulletin on Wednesday. Some flooding was reported late in the morning in parts of Tel Aviv.

The snow was expected to spread overnight Wednesday from Mount Hermon and the northern Galilee to central high-altitude locations, including Jerusalem, as well as the northern Negev mountains, accompanied by a sharp drop in temperatures.

The central and southern areas could see some flurries throughout Friday as well.

Emergency services across the country were put on high alert ahead of the storm’s arrival.

The capital was prepared to counter the snow, which was expected to stick to the ground, with 90 tons of salt as well as snowplows. 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.”

The capital’s emergency services will be on alert around the clock to handle the anticipated car accidents, fallen branches, and possible roof collapses.

Mayor Nir Barkat investigating the Jerusalem Municipality's preparations for the snow expected to fall in the capital (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Mayor Nir Barkat investigating the Jerusalem Municipality’s preparations for the snow expected to fall in the capital (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Schools in some northern Arab towns were closed Wednesday due to the heavy rain.

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.

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