Jordan Valley highway closed as floods expected
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Jordan Valley highway closed as floods expected

Jerusalem sees first flurries with residents bracing for heavier snowfall overnight; Sea of Galilee water level rises

An orchard covered in snow in the Etzion Bloc, south of Jerusalem, January 25, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
An orchard covered in snow in the Etzion Bloc, south of Jerusalem, January 25, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Monday rainfall raised the level of the Sea of Galilee and shut desert roads over flash-flood fears as the nation braced for a chill night that could blanket many elevated areas in snow.

Rainfall that began Sunday led to a two-centimeter rise in the Sea of Galilee’s level by Monday afternoon, even as much of the rainfall has concentrated on the center of the country, too far south to have contributed to the increase.

As the mountains around Jerusalem and the Judean Hills were pelted with periodic strong rains and some flurries, the main north-south highway in the Jordan Valley, Route 90 along the Dead Sea, was shut over fears of flash floods crashing down on the road from the riverbeds of the West Bank highlands to the west.

The army has ordered the closure of Route 60, the main north-south highway through the central West Bank, as soon as persistent snowfall begins on Monday. Authorities recommended that Israelis and Palestinians stay off the mountainous road from 5 p.m., even if significant snowfall has not yet begun.

By late Monday, temperatures in large swaths of the country, especially hilltop cities of the north, from the Golan Heights to Safed in the Galilee, and Jerusalem were expected to drop below freezing, carpeting large areas in snow.

Snow on parked cars in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, January 25, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Snow on parked cars in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, January 25, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Jerusalem saw a light dusting Monday morning, but much of it melted by early afternoon. Schools in the hilly region of the West Bank south of Jerusalem were to close at 1:00 p.m. Monday. In the hills around Jerusalem, the Israel Electric Corporation set up four generators to ensure that residents of the high-elevation Etzion Bloc, the South Hebron Hills and Kiryat Arba received continued supply, should power cuts affect locations that are difficult to access during heavy snow.

Despite snowfall at higher altitudes, all roads closed earlier Monday in the Galilee and Golan have reopened, and there were no school closings reported for Tuesday. As of Monday afternoon, some 50 centimeters of snow had fallen on the lower level of Mount Hermon since Sunday, raising hopes of a bustling ski season once the storm passes.

In Jerusalem, 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.

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.

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, 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 of last year, amid new records for precipitation in a single hour.

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