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Severe sandstorm grounds flights ahead of rain, snow

Dust fills skies as winter storm barrels in, forcing smaller airports to close and causing breathing problems

Israelis walk in Jerusalem as a dust storm hit the city on February 11, 2015. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israelis walk in Jerusalem as a dust storm hit the city on February 11, 2015. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel woke up Wednesday to a blanket of fine yellow dust covering the sky, cars, roads and causing breathing problems and airport closures, as a major winter storm blew sand into the area ahead of an expected drenching.

Heavy rains and possibly snow were expected to begin falling on Wednesday after more than 24 hours of sandstorms and winds reaching up to 100 km/h (60 mph).

Pollution in Israel due to the sandstorm Wednesday was the worst measured in the past five years, Israel Radio reported.

Some 260 people were treated for breathing problems as sand and dust blotted out the sky and covered everything in its path Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the report.

The sand also forced airlines to cancel domestic flights Wednesday morning, as low visibility made takeoffs and landings at Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport and Eilat’s airport impossible.

The Eilat airport later reopened. Travelers were advised to check with airlines on possible delays and cancellations.

Magen David Adom and other health services said people suffering from breathing difficulties should avoid physical exercise and the general population should stay in closed spaces as much as possible.

A kitesurfer rides above churning waves off Tel Aviv on February 10, 2015, as a storm moves through the area. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
A kitesurfer rides above churning waves off Tel Aviv on February 10, 2015, as a storm moves through the area. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

On Wednesday evening rains were due to start falling, initially in the north of the country and then extending to the center. Heavy snows were expected in the Golan Heights and higher elevations of northern Israel.

On Wednesday afternoon the rain is likely to reach Jerusalem, while in the south of the country sandstorms are expected continue. There is a small chance of snow in higher elevations in the center, including Jerusalem, but the snow is unlikely to accumulate.

The air will begin clearing up in the north with the first rains on Wednesday afternoon. Elsewhere in Israel rain will filter out the microscopic particles only by Thursday afternoon.

Thursday afternoon and night are expected to witness increased precipitation across the country.

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