Jerusalem hunkers down as snowstorm set to blow in
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Jerusalem hunkers down as snowstorm set to blow in

Flurries fall in Golan, Galilee and Etzion bloc, expected to reach capital Monday night

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat oversees preparations for snow, which is expected to fall in Jerusalem this week. January 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat oversees preparations for snow, which is expected to fall in Jerusalem this week. January 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 100 snow plows were at the ready in Jerusalem and dozens more were on standby Sunday as residents hunkered down for heavy winds and snow expected to buffet the capital over the next several days.

Municipal workers were on call to operate tractors and heavy equipment and were preparing to distribute 400 tons of salt to community centers and to 500 educational institutions throughout the city.

The Education Ministry was meanwhile preparing to open special situation rooms to monitor deteriorating weather conditions across the country, as snow spread southward from the Golan Heights and Galilee to the Etzion bloc and Kiryat Arba in the West Bank south of Jerusalem.

The Israel Meteorological Service predicted snow in Jerusalem and the Negev mountains starting Monday night and continuing into Tuesday and Wednesday, along with strong winds and the risk of flooding and flash floods in lower-lying areas. Temperatures are expected to rise only on Thursday.

Forecasters said a low-pressure system across the eastern Mediterranean has been driving the stormy weather against Israel’s shores.

Heavy winds were reported in the coastal city of Ashdod on Sunday while authorities in the southern seaside town of Ashkelon ensured machinery was ready in the event of flooding. The town suffered serious floods in November and December, setting a new meteorological record for the most rain in a single hour.

Snow began dusting Mount Hermon’s ski slopes Sunday morning, and the site was closed to visitors, while thunderstorms and even hail were predicted as far south as the northern Negev.

In the hills around Jerusalem, the Israel Electric Corporation set up four generators to ensure that residents of the high-elevation Etzion bloc, south Hebron Hills and Kiryat Arba received continued supply, should power cuts affect locations that are difficult to access during heavy snow.

The Jerusalem Municipality announced Sunday that it had stockpiled thousands of tons of food, thousands of spades, heaters, generators, heat packs, emergency lighting, hundreds of blankets and sleeping bags. Food suppliers have been told to stock up before the storm arrives in force.

An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man seen visiting Wadi Og, in the Judean Desert, south of Jerusalem, on January 24, 2016. Many Israelis come to see the flooding of the river after heavy rains. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man seen visiting Wadi Og, in the Judean Desert, south of Jerusalem, on January 24, 2016. Many Israelis come to see the flooding of the river after heavy rains. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The municipality warned residents that the closure of entrances to Jerusalem could be expected, and announced it was setting up a special internet page with updates on roads, public transport and education.

Some 10 off-road vehicles have been equipped with shovels to help clear snow from the city’s light rail tracks and Citypass, which operates the light rail in Jerusalem, has called on drivers not to abandon cars on the tracks as they did during snowfalls in years gone by. The company reminded passengers that the trains can operate in snow up to five centimeters deep.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told staff to intensify efforts to identify homeless people and teenagers sleeping rough and to take them to accommodation until the storm has passed.

“Snow in Jerusalem is a cause for celebration for Jerusalemites, and we expect to see the most beautiful city in the world covered in white,” he said in a statement. “We call on all residents to prepare for the snow, prepare as necessary, demonstrate responsibility, and follow the instructions of the Municipality and Rescue Services.”

The municipality canceled tree-planting ceremonies to mark the festival of Tu B’Shvat, the Nrg website reported, while the Education Ministry ordered school trips to be diverted to places not expecting snow or floods.

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