An onslaught of dusty windstorms on Sunday led the Environmental Protection Ministry to issue severe air pollution warnings and prompted the Airports Authority to close down Sde Dov Airport.

As a result of a depression over the Eastern Mediterranean, heavy winds, sandstorms and dust are being transported over Israel from the North African region, the ministry said.

The increased winds and simultaneous presence of dust and sands lead to high concentrations of particles that can enter the respiratory tract, the ministry warned.

The ministry therefore recommended that all sensitive members of the population – such as children, pregnant women, the elderly and patients with heart or lung diseases – avoid partaking in strenuous physical activity.

The Airports Authority, meanwhile, reported that southwesterly winds would be increasing to up to 20 knots by Sunday afternoon, and visibility would decrease by between 800 and 1,500 meters, with potential for thunderstorms and flooding in the South.

As a result, the authority – as well as Arkia and Israir airlines – chose to cancel all flights to and from Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport from midday Sunday on, requesting that passengers make their way to Ben-Gurion Airport instead.

As far as the ongoing dust storms are concerned, the ministry said that air pollution measurement data would be available in real time on its website, where staff members would continue updating the public in accordance with data they receive from air quality monitoring stations.

Despite predicting chances of light rain around the country throughout an unseasonably warm Sunday and Monday, Israel Meteorological Services (IMS) has deemed this winter one of the driest yet for portions of Israel – particularly in the country’s northeast – as the second of the three “rainy months” of the year concludes.

“When considering the amount of rain since the beginning of the season, there is a significant difference between the North of the country and the Center and the South,” said Dr. Amos Porat, head of the IMS climatology department, upon releasing a report on drought conditions Thursday night.

“In the North, the small quantity of rain is extreme and unprecedented, and is about one-third to one-half of the annual average for this period,” Porat said. “However, a picture of the situation southward is less terrible, although in the Center there is a severe deficit.”

Following two rainstorms in the early portion of December, including the large storm from December 10 through 14, the region did not receive any significant rain systems, according to the IMS report.

From mid-December through the end of February, the northern Coastal Plain received only between 50 to 80 mm. of rain, compared to the annual average for this period of approximately 300 to 350 mm., the report said. The Galilee received only between 50 and 100 mm.

of rain during this time, as opposed to its annual average of between 350 and 450 mm.

The central Coastal Plain received between 20 and 60 mm. of rain, compared to its average of 280 to 330 mm., the IMS said. Over the mountains of Judea and Samaria, only between 10 and 30 mm. of rain fell, constituting less than 10 percent of the typical amounts for the period. Most hard hit was Beit She’an, where less than 5 mm.

fell during the past two-and-a-half months, according to the data.

“The rain amounts set a negative record for the period of mid-December to late February in most parts of the country,” the IMS report said.

The conditions of the current season are not very unusual, however, for areas in the Negev and Arava deserts, which received between 15 and 25 mm.

during this period – quantities that are close to the average amounts, the IMS data said. Another area to receive typical amounts of rainfall is the country’s northwest, near Nahariya, where between 120 and 150 mm. have accumulated, mostly due to one day of precipitation in mid-February, the IMS said.

All in all, in terms of the number of days in which rain has fallen from the beginning of the rainy season through the end of February, most areas in Israel have experienced severe deficits – experiencing only between 40% and 60% of the typical number of such episodes, the IMS report added.

The Kinneret rose only 4 cm. in the entire month of February, the lowest rise for this month ever recorded, the Water Authority said on Sunday.

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