Towns flood in north as forecasts see cold snap, snow in Jerusalem
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Towns flood in north as forecasts see cold snap, snow in Jerusalem

Unusually strong rains break five-year drought, force evacuations of hikers, stranded motorists, and schoolchildren in mountainous areas

  • A stream overflows with water after heavy rains on the Golan Heights, January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
    A stream overflows with water after heavy rains on the Golan Heights, January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
  • A car is carried off by floodwaters in the Hilazon riverbed in the central Galilee, January 14, 2019. (Northern District Fire and Rescue Services)
    A car is carried off by floodwaters in the Hilazon riverbed in the central Galilee, January 14, 2019. (Northern District Fire and Rescue Services)
  • Gazelles cross a field on the Golan Heights on January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
    Gazelles cross a field on the Golan Heights on January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
  • A vehicle crosses a flooded stream on the Golan Heights, January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
    A vehicle crosses a flooded stream on the Golan Heights, January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
  • Sun rays seen through clouds on the Golan Heights, January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
    Sun rays seen through clouds on the Golan Heights, January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
  • A stream overflows after rains on the Golan Heights, January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
    A stream overflows after rains on the Golan Heights, January 14, 2019. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)

Massive flooding hit northern towns as parts of the country, including Jerusalem, braced for snow over the next few days.

Forecasts predicted an overnight freeze and local rain in the mountainous parts of the Galilee and Jerusalem regions, slowly building up until Wednesday, when major storms are expected to hit Israel’s shores.

For many northern towns and villages, however, the rain warnings came late on Monday. The central Galilee and Golan Heights faced floods in the streets and saw dramatic rescues on Monday after unseasonable — but mostly welcome — downpours.

The rainy winter breaks a five-year drought that was the worst Israel has experienced in decades. While the dearth of rainfall affected Israelis less than some of their neighbors, as Israel desalinates about half of its water from the Mediterranean Sea, officials were beginning to consider dramatic steps, from rationing to pumping desalinated water into the Sea of Galilee to lower its salinity, if the drought continued.

A Magen David Adom ambulance caught in flooding on January 14, 2019. (MDA)

“It’s been five years since we’ve seen this kind of flow,” Uri Shor, spokesman of the Water Authority, said on Monday.

Video footage from a riverbed near the northern Arab town of Sakhnin showed a man being rescued from a car that had been dragged by torrential waters.

وادي حلزون قرب سخنين صباح اليوم ❄☔⛄

Posted by ‎Khatab Nassar خطاب نصار‎ on Sunday, 13 January 2019

The city of Umm al-Fahm posted video to Facebook showing a torrent of water pouring down one street.

الوضع بطمره الان…مرشح وعدهم ببحر… والبحر اجا .. ☺الله يحماكم اخوانا بالشمال

Posted by ‎مدينة ام الفحم -umm el fahem City‎ on Monday, 14 January 2019

In Tamra, which lies between coastal Kiryat Yam and Sakhnin, a school was evacuated after classrooms flooded.

At least 25 hikers had to be rescued from the Tze’elim riverbed in the Jordan Valley, after it overflowed its banks Monday evening.

A sinkhole that formed in a street in the northern coastal town of Kiryat Yam, January 14, 2019, following rain. (Kiryat Yam municipality)

“According to forecasts, we face stormy weather and the danger of flooding in riverbeds. We recommend avoiding hikes in areas that could flood,” the Israel Police said in a statement after the rescue.

The weather is only going to get worse, forecasters say. By Wednesday, the Galilee is expected to be hit by thunderstorms riding 70 kph (43 mph) winds, accompanied by hail. Dust storms and rain will push through the Negev desert. Snow will fall on the Hermon, Safed, and Jerusalem, as well as nearby mountainous areas, like the Etzion Bloc in the West Bank.

A flooded yard in the northern town of Arraba amid unusually strong rain, January 14, 2019. (Northern District Fire and Rescue Services)

The forecasts led the Health Ministry to issue an advisory for the elderly and infirm, urging them to spend the next few days with other family members.

“The elderly are more susceptible to the effects of cold weather,” the advisory warned. It urged them “to drink sufficiently, even if [cold weather] reduces one’s sense of thirst, to avoid consumption of large quantities of alcohol or caffeine, to eat many light meals rather than a few large ones, and to stay active, even when one remains at home.”

A woman walks in rain in Safed, January 14, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The ministry also urged Israelis to check the safety of their heaters and set thermostats to a higher-than-average 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Magen David Adom rescue service also noted on Monday that the elderly are the most affected by a cold snap, and urged family members to remain in regular contact with elderly relatives in the coming days.

The Jerusalem municipality, meanwhile, announced it was deploying 150 snow-removal vehicles, tractors and salt trucks to clear the city’s main avenues in the event of snowfall.

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