Snow began to blanket the North on Thursday, while residents of the capital anticipated their own winter wonderland.
The snow began on the Golan Heights in the morning, and by evening was falling over the northern and central mountains. The rain turned to intermittent flurries and hail and then heavy snow over Jerusalem in the evening.
Those same areas were expected to continue to see snow overnight, with accumulations occurring at altitudes of 500 meters and above, the Israel Meteorological Service said.
The snow is set to stop completely by nightfall on Friday.
Rain poured over the northern and central regions throughout the day Thursday, accompanied by strong winds. With the constant rain, the level of Lake Kinneret rose 1.5 centimeters just from morning to evening – for a total of 4 centimeters since the storm begin – reaching 212.35 meters below sea level, the Water Authority said.
Rain was set to continue through Saturday, diminishing by evening, according to the IMS.
For both Friday and Saturday, the IMS warned of extremely cold temperatures and the possibility of ice formation on roads.
The Education Ministry announced the cancellation of classes for Friday throughout Jerusalem and the Northern and Southern districts.
School closures were announced in the capital and its outskirts including Ma’aleh Adumim, Mevaseret Zion, Kiryat Ye’arim, Beit El, Kiryat Arba, Givat Ze’ev and Efrat. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said its campuses would remain closed on Friday, as well.
In the North, Safed, the Marom Galil Regional Council, Daliat al-Carmel and Usfiya, the latter two on the outskirts of Haifa, also announced school cancellations for Friday. The University of Haifa canceled classes for fear that snow would block the entrance to its campus.
In the South, schools were ordered closed on Friday in the Al-Kasom Regional Council, Neveh Midbar, Tamar Regional Council, Arad, Meitar and the South Hebron Hills for fear of flooding.
Michal Cohen, director-general of the Education Ministry, instructed the educational system to prepare for the stormy weather. The ministry opened its operations room in Jerusalem on Thursday to monitor developments and respond as required.
In addition, the ministry canceled all school trips on Thursday and Friday to areas expecting snow or flooding, and is operating a telephone hotline for the public with information on school closures (1-800-250025).
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a meeting with relevant officials at the Border Police headquarters in Lod to assess the country’s readiness for the winter mess. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel Police Insp.-Gen.
Yochanan Danino, Israel Electric Corporation CEO Eli Glickman, Magen David Adom director-general Eli Bin and representatives of other ministries and emergency services attended the meeting.
“Instructions are, first of all, to save lives before anything else, to prevent loss of life,” Netanyahu said. “The second instruction is – to the best of our ability – to see to the orderly supply of electricity.”
The Jerusalem Municipality prepared 230 snow plows, salt spreaders and engineering equipment, as well as four-wheel drive vehicles that can maneuver in the snow.
The municipality said it has procured 1,500 sacks of salt, which were being distributed at community centers, in neighborhoods and at 500 educational institutions across the capital.
“Snow requires municipal preparedness and personal responsibility by all residents,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said on Wednesday night. “We call on all residents to prepare for the snow, bring forward preparations, show responsibility and listen to the instructions of the municipality and rescue services.”
The Palestinian Authority formed several “central operation rooms” in the West Bank on Thursday to deal with the expected storm. The PA urged Palestinians to remain indoors and avoid driving in the snow.
The PA said its emergency teams were ready to open all major roads that could be blocked by the snow, while municipal and civil defense workers were put on high alert and hospitals beefed up their medical staff.
Routes 1 and 443 were closed intermittently in and out of Jerusalem as a safety precaution, but Danino said wider road closures within the capital would be ordered only if there were enough snow on the roads to make the situation too dangerous.
There were already a number of road closures in the North by press time.
After sinkholes were discovered on Route 90, the highway adjacent to the Dead Sea, Transportation Ministry officials elected to close a section of the road that leads to the Ein Gedi parking lot and the nearby fueling station, amid expectations the weather would exacerbate the road’s problems.
Transportation Ministry director-general Uzi Itzhaki called for drivers to avoid unnecessary travel in the coming days, recommending they use public transportation and drive only in cases of emergency.
The ministry’s Public Transport Authority arranged for buses in the North to be equipped with chain wheels.
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Light Rail was to operate, without passengers, on a “hot” rail line overnight Thursday to maintain the mechanism’s integrity amid freezing temperatures.
Netivei Israel-National Transport Infrastructure Company Ltd. completed its deployment of heavy equipment on Thursday and made all arrangements necessary for their use with the Traffic Police, the Transportation Ministry said.
Night bus lines into and out of Jerusalem were canceled for Thursday night, while many buses in Safed ceased operating by the afternoon.
Israel Railways reinforced routes from the Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh stations, operating one train hourly from noon to midnight on Thursday and continuing into Friday, with room for 850 passengers.
These trains are the equivalent of about 17 buses, the company said.
Israel Railways canceled train operations for the same period between Rishon Lezion’s Rishonim station and Lod, as well as between Dimona and Beersheba. Passengers at these stations are receiving alternate service from buses, the company said.
The Israel Electric Corporation confirmed that its workers had completed all necessary preparations for the incoming storm, including the activation of 50 generators and SUVs in remote and sensitive areas. The company expected peak usage for Thursday to reach about 12,000 megawatts, but noted that production capacity stands at 13,500 megawatts.
Although the IEC stressed that its workers were prepared to handle emergency situations, the company warned that the power grid is sensitive to weather and damage could affect power supply.
While some problems can be solved by advanced technological means from a remote setting, others require site visits to identify hazards and perform repairs.
The company reminded the public to report broken wires immediately to the IEC hotline at *103, or to the police.
The Welfare and Social Service Ministry said it was preparing to help needy populations in local authorities with a special emphasis on providing assistance to the elderly and homeless.
The ministry instructed all municipalities, particularly Jerusalem and in the Northern District, to stockpile water and food, as well as diesel and generators for a minimum 72-hour period.
Municipalities were instructed to evacuate the homeless to local shelters or provide survival and heating equipment for those who remain on the street.
The ministry announced that it is set to distribute heaters and hot meals, and will remain on alert to evacuate the elderly in need of emergency respite.
In addition, the ministry will operate volunteer jeep units throughout the expected storm to assist needy populations.
A *118 hotline will operate 24 hours a day to receive requests for welfare assistance.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.