Snow dusts Jerusalem area as winter storm wallops Israel

Capital sees flurry for first time in years, with several roads closed as forecasts predict accumulation of 10 cm in Eztion bloc and other high elevation areas

Snow falls in Efrat in the Gush Etzion settlement block in the West Bank on January 16, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Snow falls in Efrat in the Gush Etzion settlement block in the West Bank on January 16, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Snow flurries flitted into streets in Jerusalem and mountainous areas around the capital, as a fast-moving winter storm blew through Israel on Wednesday night.

Elsewhere in the country, towns were buffeted by howling winds and heavy rains as temperatures slouched toward freezing. As Israelis cranked up their heaters, the Israel Electric Corporation said it broke an all-time record for winter electricity demand.

The snowfall in Jerusalem was the first in several years, thanks to a system from Siberia dipping into the region. By Thursday, it was expected to have cleared out.

The National Weather Service forecast “significant” snowfall in areas of high elevation late Wednesday and early Thursday, predicting an accumulation of 10 cm (4 inches) in the Gush Etzion area in the southern West Bank.

But with temperatures hovering around freezing in the capital, snow quickly turned to slush and most was expected to be washed away by the rains by Thursday morning.

The Etzion settlement bloc south of the capital, which sits above the city, saw colder temperatures and heavier snowfall amounts, and areas in the Golan Heights and northern Galilee also saw snowfall, a less rare occurrence.

Police shut Route 60, the main north-south highway between Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc. Ora Junction outside of Ein Kerem was also blocked to traffic due to the snow.

Ahead of the storm, the city said it prepared 150 snowplows, tractors, salt dispensers and engineering tools to help clear snow on main roads and has 250 tons of salt on hand.

The Ovda Airport airport in southern Israel cancelled all incoming and outgoing flights on Wednesday evening, citing high winds and extremely poor visibility. An airport spokesperson said a Wizz Air flight scheduled to land in Ovda later had been instructed to land to Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv instead.

Earlier, strong winds from Egypt whipped up dust in south and central Israel throughout the day, with high levels of air pollution reported.

A woman walks on the beach next to a statue of the first Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The weather resulted in damage in several places on Wednesday, including in the Gaza-area Eshkol Regional Council where a tree fell on a car. A local spokesperson said emergency crews rescued the driver from the vehicle uninjured.

Stormy weather was forecast for the entire country overnight Wednesday. In areas not expecting snow, residents were warned of thunderstorms, heavy rains, hail and wind gusts up to 100 kph during the night.

Most precipitation was to ease up by Thursday, though temperatures were to remain colder than usual.

Vehicles drive during a sandstorm in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

The cold snap also brought sandstorms, hail and rain to parts of the Middle East on Wednesday, with visibility down in the Egyptian capital as an orange cloud of dust blocked out the sky.

Snow and heavy rains battered Syria and Lebanon’s eastern and northern regions this week, flooding dozens of makeshift refugee camps housing the tens of thousands of displaced Syrians.

On Tuesday, the United Nations said the freezing temperatures and lack of medical care have killed at least 15 Syrian refugee children in recent weeks.

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