Jerusalem sees first flurries as storm moves in
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Jerusalem sees first flurries as storm moves in

Anticipating heavier snowfall, some schools in West Bank settlements to close early; roads blocked in north

The Jerusalem Municipality prepares tractors for clearing the snow which is expected to fall in Jerusalem this week, January 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Jerusalem Municipality prepares tractors for clearing the snow which is expected to fall in Jerusalem this week, January 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

First flakes of snow began falling in Jerusalem Monday morning as the country braced for more inclement weather. Despite the wintry mix, City Hall said schools would operate normally.

Rain was projected to fall across northern and central Israel, with snow at higher altitudes. The temperature hovered over freezing in the capital as precipitation began to fall.

Schools in the hilly region of the West Bank south of Jerusalem were to close at 1:00 p.m., around the time snow was projected to begin in earnest.

Police issued a list of mountainous stretches of highway in the country’s north that were closed Monday morning due to snow: Route 989 near Neve Ativ, Route 98 near Elron, Route 89 from Hiram to Horfeish, and the Lebanese border road, Route 899, from Kibbutz Sasa to the nearby field school.

In Jerusalem, where roads were still open Monday morning, though with scant traffic, some 100 snow plows were at the ready and dozens more were on standby 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 keep open community centers and some 500 educational institutions throughout the city.

The Education Ministry was meanwhile preparing to open special situation rooms to monitor 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 flash floods in the desert riverbeds of the Negev and West Bank. Temperatures are expected to rise only on Thursday.

IDF soldiers stand guard in the cold near the Gush Etzion Junction on January 24, 2016, as a major winter storm hits the country. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
IDF soldiers stand guard in the cold near the Gush Etzion Junction on January 24, 2016, as a major winter storm hits the country. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

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

According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, the wintry weather has delayed the start of the spring semester for public schools in the Gaza Strip. Classes would start Monday, a statement from the Hamas-ruled Gaza government said Sunday, and may be delayed further depending on the severity of the storm.

Palestinians stand near a road flooded with rainwater following heavy rains, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 24, 2016. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians stand near a road flooded with rainwater following heavy rains, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 24, 2016. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

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, amid new records for precipitation 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.

A Haredi man seen visiting Wadi Og in the Judean Desert, south of Jerusalem, on January 24, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A Haredi man seen visiting Wadi Og in the Judean Desert, south of Jerusalem, on January 24, 2016. (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. Citypass, the company that operates Jerusalem’s light rail, 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 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)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told staff to intensify efforts to identify homeless people and teenagers sleeping outside and to out them up in community centers 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, show responsibility, and follow the instructions of the municipality and rescue services.”

The municipality canceled tree-planting ceremonies to mark the festival of Tu Bishvat, the NRG news site reported, while the Education Ministry ordered school trips to be diverted to places where snow or floods were not expected.

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