Israel was bracing on Tuesday for a major winter storm, with Jerusalemites making runs to local supermarkets to stock up on dairy products, water, canned goods, oil, and flour. Some supermarkets in the capital saw their supply of water and fresh meat run out on Tuesday.
The Shufersal chain saw a spike in purchases in recent days at its Jerusalem and Safed branches, as did Rami Levy supermarkets in Jerusalem and the Etzion bloc, the Walla news site reported.
“We are talking about a growth of 250 percent percent from an average weekday,” said Rami Levy, head of the eponymous chain. “People are buying everything, but primarily meat for Shabbat, baby products, and drinks, especially mineral water. They are afraid of being stuck without food on Shabbat, and are buying enough to last even till Sunday.”
Levy told Walla that his branches would remain open during the storm.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participated in a planning meeting Tuesday ahead of the storm. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and district police chief Chico Edri took part in the meeting, along with IDF, emergency services, and welfare services representatives.
“We have three missions,” said Netanyahu. “The first mission is saving lives, the second mission is continuing vital services, and the third mission is mutual help — residents helping residents.”
Meanwhile, blustery winds were gusting countrywide Tuesday morning.
For now, schools are planning to hold classes as usual, according to Education Ministry director Michal Cohen. In addition, Thursday’s matriculation exams are still scheduled to be held. In case of inclement weather, school principals will consult with local and ministry officials to decide on cancellations.
School field trips planned for Wednesday to Sunday in areas expecting rain and snow have been called off.
The Education Ministry’s information hotline is 1-800-250-025.
An announcement by the Jerusalem municipality said that police would shut down Routes 1 and 443 in and out of the city once snow began falling. The municipality also asked residents to refrain from non-critical travel.
Israel Railways planned to increase its service from Jerusalem’s Malha train station.
The Jerusalem hotline for updates is *8787.
The Environmental Protection Ministry announced Tuesday that it is expecting significant air pollution in the south in the wake of sandstorms kicked up by the storm, the NRG news site reported.
“The heavy air pollution in the south is expected to stretch from Ashdod to Eilat, and is expected to continue until tomorrow,” the ministry said Tuesday.
Israel’s Meteorological Service said Tuesday that rain would start in the northern and coastal regions before spreading to the center of the country. Snow was expected to begin Tuesday on Mount Hermon, spreading to reach mountains in the Galilee by evening.
The IMS predicted rain and heavy winds overnight in the north and central regions, with flood warnings in effect for rivers in the Judean Desert and Jordan Valley, and sandstorms in the south.
Snow is expected to reach Jerusalem and the surrounding hills on Wednesday, while heavy rains buffet the coast. Intermittent snow and cold weather was forecast into Friday.
Some forecasts predicted as much as two feet of snow (62 centimeters) for higher elevations in northern Israel and in the high-altitude Etzion Bloc, south of Jerusalem.
The snowstorm would be the first snowfall in Jerusalem since the capital was slammed with one of the heaviest winter storms on record in December 2013. During that storm the capital and other areas were cut off for days, with electricity down in many places. IDF armored personnel carriers were deployed to rescue stranded motorists as authorities struggled to cope with the scale of the damage.
Barkat said Monday that a storm situation room would be opened Tuesday evening. He also said that roads leading in and out of the capital would be blocked to traffic to prevent a repeat of debacle caused by 2013’s massive snowstorm, when hundreds of cars were trapped in drifts along main highways.
The police, said Barkat, “will block and will not allow traffic on the main roads, the entrance to the city, and on the main arteries inside Jerusalem. This is to allow the plows and the security services to keep the roads open, primarily for saving lives.”
Barkat asked Jerusalem residents to take responsibility for their homes and to be proactive in checking on their neighbors.
He added that snowplows were ready and waiting to clear the roads, after which they will be reopened to traffic. There are 150 snowplows waiting to clear the capital’s roads, significantly more than the 90 that struggled to handle last year winter’s snowstorm.
The IDF Home Front Command urged residents to prepare water, dry goods, emergency flashlights and batteries, warm clothes and blankets, a radio with batteries, a fully charged cellphone and spare battery, and a generator, in addition to checking gutters and tree branches that could fall during the storm.
Municipal authorities in Jerusalem on Sunday began pruning dangerous branches on trees in public areas as well as conducting road inspections to look for potential trouble spots, the Hebrew-language Walla news website reported.
Unstable buildings were also being reviewed and the city hall made arrangements with towing services to quickly remove stranded cars to prevent blocked roads.
Firefighters and the municipal water board were both put on alert to deal with any emergencies or flooding in low places where the expected rain might gather.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.