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Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem
Waiting for winter
By GIL SHEFLER
18/11/2010
From Web surfers to radio programs, the country is looking to the skies for rain.
 
It’s a national obsession that repeats itself every year. As the long summer nears its expected end, Israelis become increasingly anxious over when the Middle-Eastern heat will abate and blessed winter rains return. Last month, the season’s first downpour arrived on time, leaving a few millimeters of precipitation and some puddles behind. But since then not a drop has fallen, and temperatures have soared much past the norm for the season.

“November is an autumn month, not a wintry one, and it still has hot days, but this November has been particularly scorching,” Rinat Rahmim, a forecaster for the Israel Meteorological Service, said on Wednesday.

“Last week we had all-time record highs. For instance, it was 36.6º Celsius in Beit Dagan.”

Winters in Israel are short but usually relatively stormy. It may come as a surprise to some that Jerusalem’s annual precipitation is 554 mm., only 29 mm. less than London, which averages 583 mm. per year. But in Israel all rain falls within a six-month period. So far, very little rain has fallen and many locals long for balmier, wetter days.

On Galgalatz, Army Radio’s sister station, producers dedicated an entire two-hour show to songs featuring the word rain in them last week.

Others have expressed their longing for rain on the Internet. Over 92,000 people are members of a Facebook page in Hebrew titled “Smell of Rain.” The page is flooded with comments and poems in praise of downpours in all its forms.

“The only thing missing in our country is a real European winter,” one member wrote on Wednesday.

This year’s crops have already been hurt by the unusual conditions of the past few weeks. Bananas and persimmons have ripened early, causing serious problems for farmers.

“They came early this season because of the weather, and prices have plummeted,” Ilan Eshel, head of the Israel Fruit and Vegetable Council, said on Wednesday.

“Growers are trying to sell desperately. If the drought continues into late December, we’ll have irreparable damage to the agricultural sector.”

Cattle ranchers are also suffering. Brush fires have turned large swaths of pasture on the Golan Heights into ashen wastelands.

Even travel to and from Israel has been affected by the weather. A thick fog descended on the littoral part of the country on Tuesday, closing Ben-Gurion Airport and cutting Israel off from the world for several hours.

“We’re currently in a synoptic phase where if it doesn’t rain, fog appears,” Rahmim explained.

Is there an end in sight to summer’s reign? “No change is expected in the coming week,” Rahmim said. “Maybe a few scattered showers in the North on Monday and Tuesday. We gave an annual forecast earlier this year, and we predict below average precipitation, but it’s still too early to say for sure. It’s still a prediction.”

Still, some good things may come out of the dry spell. As The Media Line’s Arieh O’Sullivan reported last week, rabbis, imams and priests joined forces in Jerusalem to pray for the onset of rain. If the quest for peace in the Middle East won’t bring people together, maybe the drought will.
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