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Spring wildflowers late this year, thanks to historic cold spells in early 2022

Ecologist Avi Shmida says weather conditions led to some profuse blooming, though early bloomers and those in the desert were subpar; climate analyst: Coldest March since 1953

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Turban buttercup. (Alastair Rae, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)
Turban buttercup. (Alastair Rae, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

A rare phenomenon in Israel of prolonged cold and rain during the first two and a half months of the year delayed the blooming of wildflowers and prompted unusually intense flowering in many shrubs and trees, according to a botanical expert.

Emeritus Prof. Avi Shmida, an evolutionary ecologist from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, told The Times of Israel that while the germination of seeds was a little late given that the heavy rains started only in mid-December, it was cold snaps in January and February through mid-March that delayed flowering, in many cases, by three weeks.

Dr. Amos Porat, director of Climate Services at the Israel Meteorological Service, confirmed that March 2022 was the coldest since 1953.

Average temperatures for January, February and March combined were the coldest since 1993.

Among the wildflowers that bloomed late — in those parts of Israel that have a Mediterranean climate — were the turban buttercup, which was three weeks late, and Persian cyclamen, which was two weeks behind. The latter, Shmida said, is still blooming on Mount Meron in the north of the country, where blooming is usually over by April 1.

In Israel’s desert areas, there was no cold snap, however, and it was relatively dry, with the result being that spring floral displays were quite poor, Shmida went on.

Spiny broom (Calicotome villosa), Xemenendura, CC BY-SA 2.1 es, Wikimedia Commons,

The cold in areas of Mediterranean climate, in the northern half of the country, also led to an unusual intensity of flowering in trees such as the Syrian pear and shrubs such as storax (snowbell bush) and spiny broom.

The latter had three times the usual number of flowers, Shmida said.

But wildflowers that usually bloom in the fall were adversely affected by warm, muggy weather in November.

For this reason, for example, the annual white-flowered Diplotaxis acris, which normally blooms in December in fields from Nahariya in the north to Sderot in the south, failed to bloom at all last year, Shmida said.

Emeritus Prof. Avi Shmida. (Courtesy)

Porat said that this winter’s rains started around a month later than the multiyear average, which is based on the years 1991 to 2020. While it was too early to talk about a trend, there had been a “tendency” over the past decade for Novembers to be drier, he said.

Countrywide, this winter’s precipitation — recorded from October 25 — was 107% of the average, which is not regarded as a significant divergence.

But that figure masks stark regional variations.

IMS figures show, for example, that Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast, saw 652 millimeters (2.5 inches) of rain this winter, compared with its 438 mm (1.7 inches) on average. Rosh Hanikra, on Israel’s northern tip, experienced 664 mm, or 2.6 inches, compared with an average of 492 mm — 2 inches.

Indeed, January saw widespread flooding, particularly on the coastal plain.

Screen capture from video of a person kayaking down a flooded street in Petah Tikva, January 16, 2022. (Twitter)

In the mountains, the Nimrod Fortress, on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights, recorded 1,026 mm (4 inches) of rain this year, compared with a 786 mm, or 3 inch, average. The West Bank settlement of Psagot, close to Ramallah, saw 950 mm (3.7 inches), compared with a 680mm or 2.7 inch average, while the settlement of Ariel experienced precipitation of 716 mm, or 2.8 inches, up from a 542 mm, or 2.1 inch, average.

In the Jordan Valley, by contrast, rainfall was largely down, with Ein Gedi, at the northern Dead Sea, tracking 20mm (0.08 inches), compared with a 46mm, or 0.18 inch average.

In the Negev Desert, Beersheba was down at 128 mm, or half an inch, compared with an average of 186mm, or 0.7 of an inch, while Paran, in the Arava Desert, further south, recorded just 14mm of rain (0.06 inches), compared with an average of 31mm (0.12 inches).

Porat said that it was a mistake to draw conclusions from rainfall figures for just a few years. “A few rainy years don’t tell us anything about the future,” he said.

Dr Amos Porat of the Israel Meteorological Service. (Courtesy)

Asked why some years are wetter than others, he said, “There’s no explanation. That’s our climate.”

The amount of rain depended on the movement of different weather systems, he explained.

The last four winters have been relatively rainy, particularly those starting in 2018 and 2019, during which rainfall was around 130% of the average. Precipitation during the winter starting in 2020 was average.

These last four years followed six years that were quite dry, with the exception of the winter starting 2014, which saw above-average precipitation.

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