As the snow
and rainfall pounded the country for four days last weekend, chaos ensued – with
trees collapsing on power lines, and forces of nature battering infrastructure
unprepared for such an event.
Yet rather than investing huge amounts of
money in equipping towns to more efficiently handle such severe conditions, the
key to enduring the next extreme weather event will be better communication
between the relevant authorities and the citizens, according to Dr. Limor
Aharonson-Daniel, the founding director of Ben-Gurion University’s Center for
Preparedness and Response to Disaster and Emergency Situations
“I don’t think they were lacking equipment,” Aharonson- Daniel
said. “Maybe the timing of moving equipment from one place to another was
problematic, as well as the roadblocks of people in the
Eliminating confusion and ensuring that the population
understands who is responsible for leading the storm response, as well as better
informing the public ahead of time, will be crucial in future situations,
“The most important thing is that the message
to the population should have been given earlier – it should have been much
clearer,” she said. “If the population understood earlier how severe the weather
is going to be, probably many of the people wouldn’t have gone on Road 1 that
day. I think that people did not understand what was going to happen.”
the height of the storm, on Friday, up to 35,000 Israel Electric Corporation
households were left without power, or 1.4 percent of the company’s total 2.5
million customers. About 13,000 of these outages plagued Jerusalem and 2,400
Safed, cities whose operations were essentially shut down for the duration of
By Monday morning, a full day after the storm conditions had
subsided, 8,000 customers were still without power – a number that fell only to
3,250 households by that night. As of Tuesday morning, a few hundred isolated
customers remained without power, mostly in the Jerusalem area, and the company
distributed and connected 70 temporary generators throughout the country to
places still encountering glitches.
All in all, throughout the
unseasonably cold storm, Jerusalem received between 40 and 50 centimeters of
snow, while Gush Etzion and the Hebron mountains received between 60 and 70 cm.,
according to the Israel Meteorological Service (IMS). Only three snow events in
the past century have rivaled or surpassed the snowstorm in Jerusalem – with 97
cm. falling in February of 1920, 50 cm. in February of 1950 and between 40 and
45 cm. in February of 1992.
As far as rains are concerned, the central
and southern coastal plains received the most during the storm, accumulating
between 200 and 250 millimeters, and even up to 250 to 300 mm. in the Gaza
Strip, the IMS reported. The hills of Judea and Samaria received between 170 and
220 mm., while the Tel Aviv and Sharon regions gained between 150 and 180 mm. In
the northwest Negev, about 110 to 140 mm. of rain fell, while the Lake Kinneret
(the Sea of Galilee) and Hula Valley areas received between 70 and 80 mm. The
northern coastal plain and the hills of the Galilee received between 100 and 150
In the Center and South, the amounts of rain that fell in some cases
reached two to three times the monthly averages for December.
Kinneret, as well as the nation’s aquifers, reaped the benefits of the
mega-storm, with large amounts of rain falling in the North, the Center and the
From the beginning to the end of the storm, the Kinneret’s
water level rose 10 cm., bringing it to 211.30 meters below sea level, the Water
Although the storm was indeed “a rare event,” Dr. Amos
Porat, director of the IMS Climate Department, emphasized that this was not, in
fact, “a storm of once in 100-150 years.” Porat referenced the events of 1920,
1950 and 1992, demonstrating that such a storm is instead an event of
approximately once every 25 years.
“The authorities have to decide
accordingly if the country should invest tons of money in infrastructure,” Porat
said. “We do not have indications that there is a climate change that will make
these events more frequent.”
Although it has not been proven that there
is climate change afoot increasing the incidence of such events, Porat
acknowledged that this “doesn’t necessarily mean that we will have to wait 25
years for such a severe storm.”
“It could happen once again in the near
future,” he said.
As far as the rest of the winter goes, the forecasters
at IMS do not predict a dry winter, Porat added.
For January, February
and March 2014, there is a 30% probability that this period will be rainier than
usual, a 37% probability that the period will feature “average” rains and a 33%
probability that this will be a dry period, according to IMS data, which uses
the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting dynamic forecast model.
Because no category reaches above 40%, however, it is not possible to really
predict which conditions will prevail, wrote Dr. Henia Berkovich, director of
the IMS. Berkovich reiterated that the accuracy of the current seasonal outlook
is still relatively low.
Prof. Daniel Rosenfeld, a cloud and rain physics
specialist at the Hebrew University’s Earth Science Institute, agreed that this
specific storm neither provides significant insights into the future nor
necessarily signals climate change.
“But if you look at the global
picture, then you can reach some conclusions,” he said.
From a worldwide
perspective, scientists are seeing a trend of more extreme weather events, which
matches their general understanding of what global warming can do to the
climate, Rosenfeld explained.
“In this context, the chances for such a
storm are consistent with such trends, but at the same time we cannot say that
having such a storm is proof of this,” he said.
Stressing that “the
manifestations of extremes are different in different places,” Rosenfeld said
that future extreme weather events in Israel will likely be characterized by
more heat waves, a generally dryer climate and less frequent rain events – and
often, heavier rains when they do fall.
“The bottom line is more droughts
and more floods,” he said.
In order to ensure optimal preparedness for
such events in the future, Aharonson-Daniel said that the government must
communicate clearly to citizens as to who exactly is responsible for leading the
response. Clear guidelines may exist within the government, but they were not
being properly disseminated to the people.
One effective communication
mode would be making better use of two-way communication channels through social
media, in order to both send and receive information from the public. “Whatsapp
or Facebook or Twitter can be used to do bi-directional communication with the
public, to convey messages of calming people down – ‘We’re on our way to you’
and things like that,” she said.
In addition to holding the government
responsible for broader issues during such a storm, Aharonson-Daniel said that
individual citizens also must think ahead as to what their personal
responsibilities should be – how they can prepare ahead for possible incidents
like electricity outages.
“At the end of the day, each of us is
responsible to have in their house what is needed,” she added.
these recommendations for coping with future such events, Aharonson-Daniel
stressed that all in all, she did not think Israel did a particularly poor job
handling the storm. Given the infrequency of such extreme events, the less than
perfectly prepared infrastructure was not so irresponsible, she
“I think you cannot be prepared for every possible scenario,
and in the current age of limited resources it makes sense to choose what
challenges you prepare for,” she said. “I don’t think we’re in a worse condition
than are other places.”