Snow began to fall Wednesday morning in the Golan Heights as winter storm Elpis blew into Israel, bringing cold and windy weather to most parts of the country.
Later in the day, the heavy snowfall was set to reach high peaks in the Galilee region. Meanwhile, Jerusalem was expected to see as much as 20 centimeters (8 inches) of snow starting in the evening hours.
Schools in Jerusalem closed early on Wednesday at 3 p.m. and COVID-19 testing sites were to stay closed until Thursday afternoon, as the capital braced for the storm.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion asked residents to avoid traveling around the city when the bulldozers were working to remove the snow.
“The snow should start to fall around 5 p.m. and school will end at 3 p.m. Between those two hours, it is important that everyone gets home and cars do not drive around. In the afternoon there will be 210 bulldozers to clear the roads and hundreds of tons of salt are ready in warehouses,” Lion told the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday morning.
The Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of the capital, which is at a higher elevation than the capital, also said it would close schools early.
In the Golan, schools were closed all day Wednesday, with the region anticipating some 40 centimeters (16 inches) of snow by Friday.
And in the Galilee, including the city of Safed, schools ended at 12 p.m. Wednesday.
Meanwhile, heavy rains soaked other parts of the country overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday.
The Israel Meteorological Service (IMS) said the showers and thunderstorms would continue through until Thursday. Temperatures will likely drop to around freezing in some places, and stay below average for several days.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 26, 2022
Meteorologists predicted that Jerusalem may get some 20 centimeters (8 inches) of snow by Thursday morning, which would mark the heaviest accumulation there in years.
Areas at elevations higher than 700 meters (2,300 feet) in the West Bank and north of the country were expected to get even higher snowfall totals, the IMS said.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 26, 2022
Transportation officials said travel disruptions were expected in the north and the capital. Police called on people to refrain from unnecessary travel to keep roads clear.
In response to the cold weather, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry informed local authorities that it would cover the costs of hotel accommodation for people without homes who were in need of shelter. The ministry said it would cover up to NIS 468 ($150) per person, up to three nights, according to Hebrew-language media reports.
In December, three homeless men died of apparent hypothermia in the Tel Aviv area, as Storm Carmel swept through the country at the time.
While the snow will turn to rain by Thursday in much of the north, the northern Golan Heights was expected to get snow until the end of the week.
The Mount Hermon ski resort said Wednesday morning some 20 centimeters (8 inches) of snow fell overnight.
There is a danger of flooding on the coast and in some other low-lying areas until Friday. The meteorological service warned of flash floods in the Judean Desert and Dead Sea region.
Winds may reach speeds of 60-80 kilometers per hour (37-50 miles per hour) in some areas.
Before arriving in Israel, the winter storm passed through Turkey and Greece. It caused havoc in Istanbul on Tuesday by clogging major roads, leaving countless people and vehicles stranded overnight in below-freezing conditions.
Israel’s central hilly region, including Jerusalem, gets snowfall once every few years.
The severe weather system comes a week after predictions of snow in Jerusalem mostly failed to materialize, with Jerusalem seeing only a few lone flakes. The capital last saw significant accumulation in February 2021, with up to 15 centimeters (6 inches) in some places.
In 2013, a major blizzard knocked out power in several neighborhoods after blanketing the city with up to 30 centimeters (one foot) of snow. That same storm socked higher elevations south of the city with up to 90 centimeters (three feet) of snow, in what was deemed a once-in-a-century event.
However, eastern Mediterranean weather is fickle, and predictions of winter wonderlands often do not pan out.