A dense sandstorm that has blanketed Israel with thick yellowish-brown dust is expected to continue throughout the weekend and begin dissipating Sunday.
A sharp rise in temperature on Wednesday added to the already difficult weather conditions, and forecasters on Thursday predicted that the dust, heatwave and high humidity would only taper off Saturday evening.
By its second day, the massive sandstorm broke both electricity usage and air pollution records across the country.
According to figures announced by the Israel Electric Corporation, power usage broke an all-time record as Israelis tried to keep cool — surpassing an earlier all-time high set during a heatwave last month.
By Wednesday afternoon, consumption was 12,867 megawatts, up from the 12,800-megawatt record set during a week of soaring temperatures in early August.
The Environmental Protection Ministry reported in several parts of the country that air pollution levels were at their worst in 75 years during the storm, which began on Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday, air pollution in Jerusalem was 173 times higher than average; in the Negev, 51 times higher than average; and in the Galilee, 32 times higher than average.
The ministry on Wednesday evening re-issued a warning advising Israelis against being outside for extended periods, and reminded people to avoid any excessive outdoor physical activity.
The Magen David Adom national emergency medical service reported that 632 Israelis had been treated for shortness of breath, asthma attacks and an exacerbation of existing heart conditions from the effects of the sandstorm.
The storm has been blamed for at least 12 deaths in the region as well as thousands more people being treated at hospitals, according to al-Jazeera.
Poor visibility caused by the extreme weather prompted the Israeli airlines Israir and Arkia to cancel domestic flights to and from Eilat’s airport until further notice. The carrier said it would reassess weather conditions Thursday and announce when it would restart the service.
Some 800 kilometers (497 miles) above the earth’s surface, NASA satellite images show Israel, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Jordan, Lebanon and parts of Syria covered in the thick, brownish-yellow fog. According to the satellite data, the dust cloud rose 600 meters (656 yards) into the air.
Meteorologists said the sandstorm would decrease significantly by Friday. However, the unseasonably high temperatures are expected to continue throughout the weekend before dropping slightly before the start of the Jewish High Holidays on Sunday.