Below freezing temperatures in capital as snow halts
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Below freezing temperatures in capital as snow halts

Heavy rains, hail over weekend; Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway reopened

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israeli youths use kites to snowboard on a snow-covered field in the Golan Heights, January 8, 2015 (photo credit: Basal Awidat/Flash90)
Israeli youths use kites to snowboard on a snow-covered field in the Golan Heights, January 8, 2015 (photo credit: Basal Awidat/Flash90)

Israeli citizens across the country experienced unusually cold weather Saturday, with temperatures dipping to lows that had not been seen for seven years.

After snow returned to the Jerusalem area Friday, with flurries in the capital and a more-significant accumulation in the surrounding hill country, temperatures on Saturday dropped below freezing.

The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway reopened Saturday morning, after parts of it had been closed on Friday evening.

Heavy rains and hail were expected across the country later Saturday, after a sparsely clouded morning. Flash floods were expected to rage through the country’s south.

On Friday, the Gush Etzion bloc, Beit El, and Psagot near Jerusalem all saw heavy snow, as did the Golan Heights, Safed, and Metulla in northern Israel.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat asked residents to stay off the roads leading into and out of the city, and to minimize walking and driving within the city, whose streets are expected to be covered in ice. He also recommended leaving a hot-water tap dripping slightly, in order to keep pipes from freezing and water heaters from bursting.

Barkat asked volunteers at synagogues to ensure the entrances are safe for worshipers.

Roads into and out of the Galilee city of Safed were closed Friday morning, but those leading toward Rosh Pina were reopened. Roads heading toward Mt. Meron remained closed.

Homes and schools in Dimona lost power Friday morning, but the electric company fixed the problem for all but several dozen homes in the Negev city.

The Sea of Galilee rose by more than a centimeter over the past 24 hours, bringing the total rise over the week to above 8 centimeters. The lake is expected to fill even further when snow in the Golan and Galilee starts melting.

The weather caused several major roads to be closed to traffic. Route 90, south of Nahal Dragot in the Judean Desert, was shut because of flash-flood warnings. Route 60 from Hebron to Gush Etzion was also blocked off for several hours before reopening. Numerous roads within Gush Etzion were closed as well.

Routes across the northern Golan Heights were also shut down.

Schools in Jerusalem were closed Friday, as they were in Mevasseret Zion, Efrat, Beitar Illit, Har Adar, Kiryat Yearim, Kiryat Arba, Beit El, Gush Etzion, Ofra, Psagot, the Har Hebron Regional Council, Safed, Merom Galil Regional Council, Metulla, and the Tamar Regional Council.

Jerusalem municipal officials said the decision was made in cooperation with the city’s parents union, and meant to avoid risking the children’s safety.

Bus lines between Jerusalem and various surrounding settlements, especially in Gush Etzion, also suspended operation.

The Mediterranean Sea is expected to be particularly turbulent, with waves reaching up to six meters.

Giant waves hit the dock due to stormy winds at the Tel Aviv port, January 07, 2015. (photo credit: Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)
Giant waves hit the dock due to stormy winds at the Tel Aviv Port, January 7, 2015. (photo credit: Ben Kelmer/Flash90)

The storm began late Tuesday night and picked up on Wednesday as heavy rains and fierce winds swept the country. Snow was reported in the north from early Wednesday, and spread to elevated peaks in the center of the country by mid-morning.

Forecasters had predicted a large snowfall that was expected to cripple Jerusalem and the area, but only some five centimeters (two inches) fell in the capital, with most roads cleared in a matter of hours.

Thousands of homes were disconnected from the electricity grid during the storm, though by Thursday morning only a few thousand remained powerless, mainly in the cities of Netanya, Petah Tikva and Dimona.

On Wednesday, a 13-year-old boy was killed in a car accident on an icy road after a bus driver lost control and slammed into a nearby vehicle in the Elah Valley in central Israel. Several people were treated for various weather-related injuries, including hypothermia.

Street flooding was reported in cities along Israel’s Mediterranean coast, from the northern city of Acre to towns south of Tel Aviv.

Also on Wednesday, lightning struck an air traffic control tower in Ben Gurion Airport, harming its control systems. Later that day, lightning struck again in the airport, hitting an easyJet airline plane, leaving no injuries but causing damage to the aircraft, forcing it to remain grounded.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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