Liveblog (now closed): Jerusalem of white

As storm of the decade winds down, Jerusalemites play in the snow

Roads to Tel Aviv reopen, bus service partially resumes in the capital; Israel returns to its pre-election agenda after a brief, weather-induced respite

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

Snowboarding in Sacher Park, Jerusalem, Thursday, January 10, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)
Snowboarding in Sacher Park, Jerusalem, Thursday, January 10, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

Flurries overnight Wednesday and Thursday morning covered the City of Gold in a much-anticipated blanket of glittery white, coaxing out revelers and snow-throwers galore, including tens of thousand of kids who stayed home from school. Naturally, The Times of Israel was there to liveblog the elements. As the gales gradually subside and the rain clouds head east, read our blow-by-blow account of the slushy crescendo to a storm that’s been hailed as Israel’s fiercest in 20 years.

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Traffic police shut down Route 1 on Thursday morning between the Ben Shemen interchange and the Sakharov Gardens, at the entrance to the capital, due to dangerous road conditions.

Traffic was originally diverted to Route 443, where road conditions were dangerous, as well, and police also shut down that road from Shilat Junction to the capital at around 7:30 a.m.

Heavy fog covering Route 443, as seen from the settlement of Beit Horon. (photo credit: Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel staff)

Sections of Routes 1 and 443, the two main arteries connecting the capital with Tel Aviv and the Gush Dan region, were also shut down on Wednesday due to severe road conditions.

Derech Haminharot, also known as the Tunnels Road, remained closed between Jerusalem and Tzur Hadassah. The road is the main connector between the capital and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc to the southeast.

Egged, the capital’s main bus company, said it would not run its buses in or to Jerusalem, citing dangerous road conditions. It said it would restart service on main roads only at some point before noon.

The city’s light rail, which is temporarily shut down due to a technical issue, will continue to give free rides until 2 p.m. according to operator Citipass.

The Jerusalem municipality decided early Thursday that schools and kindergartens would be closed throughout the capital so as not to endanger students.

School was also canceled in the northern Golan Heights, for all areas north of and including the town of Keshet.

Students in Safed, Maalot Tarshiha, and in the Northern Galilee and Merom HaGalil Regional Councils will be staying home, as well.

In the West Bank, school was canceled in the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, in Elon Moreh, Itamar and Kfar Tapuah, among other areas.

Schools were also canceled in Dimona, Arad and the Tamar regional council, near the Dead Sea.

Schools will operate as scheduled in the areas of Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The Education Ministry has opened a situation room to help get information out to parents regarding school closures. The hotline number is (02) 622-2211.

The Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main source of freshwater, rose 14 centimeters in the last 24 hours, bringing its total to nearly 70 centimeters since the storm began on Friday, Israel’s Water Authority said.

Southern Israel may be thought of as a dry, arid wilderness, but on Wednesday night it transformed into a landscape that would make the Abominable Snowman feel at home.

Snowfall was recorded overnight in Dimona, Mitzpeh Ramon, the Ramat Hanegev area and around Sdeh Boker.

Jerusalem’s courts announce that all deliberations have been called off for the day, and only emergency arraignments and arrests will be processed at the capital’s Magistrate’s Court.

Jerusalem's snowy light rail Wednesday night (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

It seems that what’s been holding up Jerusalem’s light rail is a collapsed structure on Jaffa Road in the center of town. A municipal team is hard at work clearing the tracks.

Aside from sloshing through the snow with sodden shoes, and with Egged bus service called off for the nonce, the light rail, which will be giving out free rides till 2 p.m., should be one of the only solid methods for getting around — once the tracks are clear.

Since “snow in Jerusalem” is shorthand for “everything in the country grinds to a halt so we can all go play outside,” you can expect Knesset members and politician wannabes to adhere to an unofficial truce of sorts — even with the elections less than a fortnight away.

“Snow news is good news,” as the truism goes.

Thus, our political correspondent, Raphael Ahren, is free to roam the land and report on a whole new set of shady characters. Take this snowman, for instance (what is that thing on his head?):

A snowman in Jerusalem, Thursday, January 10, 2013 (photo credit: Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

In case you were wondering, here’s how Israel’s heaviest storm in decades is predicted to play out over the next few days.

The snow and rain that have been flooding and dusting the country, respectively, since last Friday, are expected to abate toward late Thursday afternoon — that’s today, folks.

Until then, you can expect scattered showers in the lowlands and on-again, off-again flurries in more elevated areas.

And yes, even without precipitation, the weekend air will still be quite nippy.

Jerusalemites may be many things, but they are not experienced snowman builders. The snowfall has given them a chance to hone their skills, though with mixed results.

At the Western Wall, you can stick a black hat on any old lump of snow and it will count for a minyan of 10 men.

Reb Frostovich will be voting Shas, if he doesn't melt first. (photo credit: Flash90)

This center-city snow rabbit proves you don’t need hands to hold a beer. With a cup for a nose, and little else, the bunny is about as clothed, and goofy, as the more traditional kind of snow bunny.

Hurry, you're going to miss the train. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The slightly anorexic looking creation seen below wears a crown of thorns and is either chomping on a massive cigar or has been telling a lot of lies, which is likely how he snagged these three ladies.

Pinocchio or George Burns? (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nothing brings in the customers like a Jabba the Hut snowman.

Jabba in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Courtesy/David Katz)

The Jerusalem Municipality is announcing a whopping, alpine-esque 15-20 centimeters (6-8 inches) of snow in the capital. That may be an exaggeration, at least here in the German Colony.

Maybe municipal officials went to class with that lady from the Likud ads? We kid, we kid.

A handsome dusting that isn't 6-8 inches of snow in Jerusalem's German Colony neighborhood, Wednesday morning (photo credit: Elie Leshem/Times of Israel)

Route 90 has reopened in the area of the Bezek stream, south of Beit She’an. The road had been closed for three days due to flooding.

Now Israelis have another route to take them straight to the traffic jams leading to Mount Hermon.

A snow-missile on the Temple Mount on Thursday (via Facebook)

While some Jerusalemites were busy building grotesque snowpeople (and -bunnies and -Jabba the Huts) and pelting perfect strangers with snowballs, others were putting the finishing touches on this well-endowed piece of work, a monument to the M75.

The Hamas-made long-range rocket’s claim to fame was that it was fired indiscriminately toward Jerusalem and Tel Aviv during Operation Pillar of Defense in November.

Why yes, it does appear to be on the Temple Mount.

Did we mention that several of the M75s fired from Gaza landed near Palestinian population centers?

AP reports:

A Gaza health official says a Palestinian man was electrocuted after being struck by a power cable snapped loose by ferocious winter winds. Ashraf al-Kidra says the 24-year-old died late Wednesday in the accident, which left four others injured. While heavy rains have subsided, wind gusts continue to wreak havoc with the territory’s electrical supply, and power has been cut off this week for up to 14 hours a day.

This just in: The Tiberias Marathon is taking place today despite the heavy weather. Runners have been at it since 9 a.m.

Let’s hope the Sea of Galilee waits a couple hours before it rises another two meters.

A bus carrying IDF soldiers was swept away by a flooded stream on Route 222 between Tze’elim and Revivim in the northern Negev. Rescue crews extracted the soldiers from the bus and were working to get the vehicle out of the water. Police closed the road.

While it’s a truth universally acknowledged that snow in Jerusalem is fine and dandy, what really puts this storm in a league of its own is the fact that flurries reached places that very rarely get a taste of such meteorological phenomena.

Take Dimona, for instance, which is located only 600 meters (2,000 feet) above sea level in the middle of Israel’s Negev Desert. Here’s the footage (the disembodied finger spells it out for us in Hebrew on the windshield — s-n-o-w):

Yippee! The Jerusalem light rail is up and running.

Now’s the time for denizens of the capital who aren’t liveblogging the storm to cash in on their free ride(s) and get a good look at the City of Gold’s white blanket from a moving vehicle — the only kind currently suited to negotiate the slushy streets at a reasonable speed.

Buses are still grounded.

Motorists who must, must reach the capital and are discouraged by the fact that Route 1 is closed still have several options at their disposal. For one thing, the train from Tel Aviv is running more often than usual — once an hour instead of every other hour.

Is that a snowman abdomen or a really badass snowball? A man conducts a delivery in Jerusalem, Thursday (photo credit: Daniel Laufer)

We assume the train offers a breathtaking ride through the virgin snow in the hills leading up to the city.

Still, Israel Railways wants you to keep in mind that there may be delays due to the weather.

Another option is Route 443, which offers vehicular access to the capital, although the road is still closed in the opposite direction.

Peres and the presidential snowman, Jerusalem, Thursday (photo credit: Gideon Sharon)

President Peres takes a break from making profound pronouncements about the peace process and how history is not like a horse to engage in the mitzvah of the day — snowman-building.

This one looks to be rocking a jaunty monocle. Such a hipster, our president.

We would be remiss if we didn’t share with you this gorgeous picture of a snowclad Western Wall plaza early Thursday morning, sent in by reader Mike Horton.

The Western Wall plaza is covered with snow on Thursday, January 10, 2013 (photo credit: Mike Horton)

The relentless downpours have added 69 centimeters to the level of the Sea of Galilee since the weekend, including a rise of 14 centimeters in the last 24 hours, the Israel Water Authority says.

Amir Givati, Director of Surface Water at the Hydrological Service of the Water Authority, tells The Times of Israel’s Stuart Winer that it all adds up to an estimated 100 million cubic meters of water.

And even if the rain is on the way out for the time being, the level of the lake is going to keep rising for a while due to snowmelt, Givati says.

Read the full story here.

It appears that Route 443 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv via Modi’in has reopened for both Jerusalem- and Tel Aviv-bound traffic. Route 1 remains closed.

Forget the picture of the snow-missile on the Temple Mount that we posted earlier. Here’s a much more wholesome take on how the snow is affecting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Brian Reeves writes on Facebook:

“Last night I was walking through Jerusalem and saw a group of Hareidis engaged in a cordial snowball fight with Arabs. Police were deployed, but when they got to the scene and realized everyone was just having fun they stood back, and laughed and conversed with the other spectators. Israeli Snowpocalypse 2013: Totally Worth It.”

Tzipi Livni shares this picture of a cheerful supporter in Jeusalem. But will he still be around to vote come election day?

A snowman comes out in favor of the Hatnua party, Jerusalem, Thursday (photo credit: via Facebook)

All roads are now opened to and from the northern town of Safed.

Elsewhere, Route 6, Israel’s main north-south artery, is closed between the Iron and Ein Tut interchanges due to fear of skidding.

Route 5066 to Elkana in the West Bank is also closed after the road collapsed.

In keeping with their propensity for hyperbole (a prime example was Labor chair Shelly Yachimovich saying yesterday that flooding in Israel reminded her of scenes from the big tsunami of ’04), Israelis are overreacting all over the board.

“I went to sleep in Jerusalem and woke up in Switzerland,” a woman tells Israel Radio from the city’s Gan Sacher.

Elsewhere in the capital, a father laments that his family had to settle for a makeshift meal.

“The kids woke up this morning and we had to improvise breakfast with what we already had in the house,” the 31-year-old resident of the Ramot neighborhood plaintively tells Ynet.

“We can’t reach the supermarket or the convenience store, which are less than a kilometer (0.6 miles) away. We didn’t go to work today because we can’t leave the house.”

Someone get this man a shovel.

A breakdown of the rainfall throughout the country reveals the true magnitude of a storm that has been hailed (why yes, we did go there) as the most intense in 20 years.

Jerusalem: 190 millimeters (7.5 inches)

Tel Aviv: 143 millimeters

Haifa: 140 millimeters

Netanya: 235 millimeters

Northern Golan: 290 millimeters (11.4 inches)

Figures are correct as of Thursday morning and reflect precipitation since the storm commenced last Friday.

Swirling water flows during flood at a spring near Hapirim River in Gush Etzion, located in the Judean Hills outside Jerusalem, Wednesday (photo credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

We recommend that you curl up with a steaming mug of hot chocolate and click here for a great gallery of pictures from snow-clad Jerusalem. Some of them are truly striking.

Egged buses in Jerusalem are now running again, kind of. The bus company has begun operating a limited number of lines within the capital, keeping mostly to main roads. The city says buses will be free until 7 p.m. in an effort to keep drivers off the slushy, slippery roads.

Buses for those of you hoping to make it into the city remain idling. It’s cool, though, you’re not missing anything. Really. Okay, you are.

The news comes as snow has begun falling in the city again with a vengeance, after close to an hour of nearly sunny skies.

While some Israelis revel in the snow, others are engaged in more demanding pursuits.

Right alongside the rapidly rising Sea of Galilee, the 36th Tiberias Marathon took place today.

The winner was Dominic Ondoro of Kenya, who came in with a great time of 2:07:58, only 29 seconds less than the marathon’s record.

Asrat Mamo was crowned as the Israeli champion, clocking in at 2:22:27.

All in all, some 2,000 runners braved the cold and rain to run in Tiberias.

Route 1, the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, has finally reopened to traffic to and from the capital.

Jerusalemites can now brace for the host of Tel Avivians that’s guaranteed to descend on the capital for a glimpse of some precious white stuff. In case you didn’t know, snow days are among the few times residents of the Holy City get to gloat at the plight of their hard-partying friends on the coast.

'We're not on Rothschild Boulevard anymore.' (photo credit: Shutterstock)

Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) is announcing the establishment of a “war room” to see to the needs of cities and towns that were damaged by the storm.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai speaks during a Shas party meeting at the Knesset in June (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

Says Yishai: “Municipalities can’t cope with the damage caused by the storm, and the expenses that come in its wake. I’ve contacted the finance minister in order to find a budgetary source to aid those who were affected.”

“The Interior Ministry won’t stand by and let the various municipalities bear the brunt of the damage from the storm alone,” he adds.

This goes a long way toward mitigating the dissonance between the tranquil Jerusalem snowscapes and the acerbic pre-election atmosphere (don’t worry, the backbiting, grandstanding and absurd exchanges of accusations will be back before you know it).

In case you need the exposition, Naftali Bennett, the guy who’s ‘shopped into the bottom image with the chainsaw, used to be the chief of staff for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He left the job after reportedly having a falling out with Netanyahu’s domineering, um, assertive wife, Sara, who also happens to be in the frame.

Perhaps just as apropos, Bennett was a one-time commando in the IDF’s most elite unit, Sayeret Matkal.

Oh, and did we mention that his Jewish Home party has been siphoning votes away from Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu list at a breakneck rate?

Spotted on Amir Schiby’s Facebook page.

An Israir passenger plane that took off from Ben Gurion International en route to Eilat returned to the airport after it was hit by lightning.

The captain noticed that the plane was hit and immediately decided to land the aircraft, Channel 10 reports.

The passengers were reportedly shaken but unharmed.

After it was determined that the plane was undamaged, it took off again for Eilat.

One repercussion of the storm will apparently be a leap in the consumer prices of vegetables in Israeli supermarkets.

The president of the Israeli farmers’ association, Dov “Dubi” Amitai, tells Ynet that Labor Federation officials are projecting a 10-20% rise due to damage to crops.

That compounds the already extant recent uptick in prices, setting the per-kilo rate for most veggies at over NIS 10. Steep.

Tomatoes for sale at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, September 2012 (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)

Joshua Davidovich and Yoel Goldman contributed.

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