Storms cause disruptions, damage across country

IEC reports about 17,000 households lacking electricity, mostly in central Israel.

By
January 7, 2015 19:13

Snow falling in Jerusalem, January 7, 2015. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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Although the country was far more prepared this year for the ongoing winter storm, heavy precipitation and unforgiving winds disrupted routine activity for Israelis on Wednesday, leading to at least one death.

Wednesday was characterized by particularly turbulent weather from the North to the northern Negev, with rains expected to continue – at times intermittently – until Sunday, the Israel Meteorological Service (IMS) said.

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Snow piled up in the Golan Heights and Galilee throughout the day, and began falling on Jerusalem and areas in the West Bank by the afternoon.

In some areas, winds reached speeds of up to 75 kilometers per hour, with gusts of up to 110 kph, with hail pounding streets and thunderstorms raging.
Snowstorm hits Israel

A 13-year-old boy was killed and two others injured on Wednesday afternoon in a road accident believed to have been caused by inclement weather. Magen David Adom paramedics said they found the boy showing no signs of life on the side of Route 375 between Tzur Hadassah and Beit Shemesh. They said they were told by witnesses that he was hit by a bus that had veered out of control due to the storm, which had covered the road in sleet and snow.

A 16-year-old boy was also moderately wounded in the incident, as was a 52-year-old man who suffered a light head injury.

Schools throughout the Jerusalem area and in the northern region were scheduled to remain closed on Thursday due to the inclement weather. The Jerusalem Municipality, however, said Wednesday evening that it would announce school closures only Thursday at 6 a.m., following an assessment of the situation.



The Hebrew University of Jerusalem canceled all classes and work on Thursday as did the David Yellin Academic College of Education in Jerusalem.

Ariel University also announced the cancellation of all classes on Thursday.

The Education Ministry announced school closures in Safed, Ariel, Yakir, Emmanuel and the Shomron Regional Council in the Center. In the northern region, Beit Jann, Misgav, the Golan Regional Council, and the Upper Galilee Regional Council all announced school closures.

In the Jerusalem region, classes were canceled in Givat Ze’ev, Mevaseret Zion, Betar Illit, Efrat, Beit El, Beit Horon, Kiryat Ye’arim and in the Mateh Binyamin and the Mateh Yehuda regions.

A lightning bolt struck the control tower at Ben-Gurion Airport at about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, damaging some of the supervisory systems, the Airports Authority said.

Despite the damage, no danger was posed to aircraft, as the tower was working with subsystems and increasing the landing and departure spaces for the planes while the system was being serviced. As a result, however, some incoming and outgoing flights experienced delays of up to one hour, the authority added.

“There is no danger or security problem in takeoffs or landings,” it said.

The tower operating during the storm is the one located in the center of the airport, at a height of 50 meters, with several operational elements, radars, controls and other systems, the authority said. At no stage were all of the systems hit, and the few damaged systems were repaired immediately, the authority added.

A new tower at a height of 100 meters is currently under construction and will be operational in the second quarter of 2015.

Throughout the day and evening Wednesday, households around the country experienced power outages.

At about 8 p.m., the Israel Electric Corporation reported a failure of the Hagit power station, which constitutes about 800 megawatts of the country’s supply. Within a half-hour, the malfunctions were repaired and power supply returned to customers, the company said.

An hour earlier, the IEC reported that 17,000 households were experiencing electricity malfunctions, with problems occurring mainly in Netanya, Petah Tikva, Ra’anana, Rehovot, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod and Ashkelon, the company said. On the average, repairing malfunctions requires three to four hours, but teams were being deployed as quickly as possible to restore power, the IEC said.

Other areas that experienced outages throughout the day included Herzliya, Hod Hasharon, Yehud, Afula, Jerusalem and certain streets in Tel Aviv, according to IEC reports.

In Jerusalem, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a few electrical outages were reported in the Katamon neighborhood.

The IEC estimated that at some point during Wednesday evening, the country would break an all-time record for electricity consumption, reaching about 12,200 megawatts. During last year’s winter storm, peak electricity consumption reached 11,640 megawatts on December 15, 2013, while the current usage record stands at 11,900 megawatts, from July 14, 2012, the company said.

Roads around the country closed down due to snowy conditions on Wednesday, most markedly the Route 1 and Route 443 highways to Jerusalem – which opened and closed intermittently throughout the day. Many bus lines throughout the country were not running, but Israel Railways trains operated, with some delays and schedule changes. The company doubled the number of seats and added hourly trains running from Beit Shemesh to Malha in Jerusalem.

Within Jerusalem, the majority of Egged buses were not running, though the light rail remained in service most of the day.

“The police and municipality worked closely together to coordinate updates throughout the day, and there were no major problems whatsoever,” said Rosenfeld.

Jerusalem Municipality spokeswoman Brachie Sprung, who helped man City Hall’s situation room and update the municipal website, said she was pleased by the city’s handling of the poor weather.

“Things went by very smoothly,” she said Wednesday evening. “We prepared for severe weather, and it wasn’t as severe as the forecasters predicted. The main problems were in the center of the country,” she added.

“We learned a lot of lessons from last year, and our website kept everyone informed with constant updates.”

A chain-reaction traffic accident in Samaria caused light injuries earlier in the day.

Cars collided into one another near Migdalim in the West Bank, causing at least 20 people to be lightly hurt.

Tel Aviv police said Wednesday afternoon that the storm had so far felled 39 trees, 15 traffic lights and 15 power lines. In the Central District, the storm brought down seven utility poles, 13 trees, 10 power lines, eight traffic lights, and burst a water main by late afternoon Wednesday.

The Education Ministry announced Wednesday evening that the matriculation exam in literature will take place as scheduled on Thursday.

In the event of school closures, the ministry said it would provide an alternative testing date to students unable to take the exam. The ministry also criticized false reports in the media and on social media announcing nationwide school closures and stressed that the decision whether to cancel classes would fall on local municipalities.

Despite school closures in Safed, the Menachem Begin High School of the AMAL school network and the AMIT network high school in the city were making preparations in cooperation with the Education Ministry and the local authorities to hold the matriculation exam as scheduled.

Michal Cohen, director-general of the ministry, instructed the education system to prepare for the stormy weather.

As part of its preparation efforts, the ministry opened operation rooms in Jerusalem districts on Tuesday to closely monitor developments and respond as required. The ministry is also operating a telephone hotline for the public, though it requested that parents contact local authorities regarding school closures.

School principals should consult with the education departments at local authorities and with representatives of the Education Ministry as needed to assess the situation and decide whether to cancel classes, the ministry instructed.

The ministry also announced that on Wednesday through Friday all school trips to areas with expected snow or flooding will be canceled and redirected to alternate locations.

Following a Tuesday in which air pollution levels had reached up to 38 times their normal concentrations around the South and Center, the Environmental Protection Ministry said Wednesday night that the pollution had subsided north of Uvda Airport in the southern Negev, as a result of the rain. Nonetheless, dust concentrations remained high south of Uvda – particularly in Eilat. In this region, the ministry recommended refraining from strenuous physical activities.

As the storm continues, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority warned members of the public to exercise caution at the country’s nature reserves and national parks.

Several of these sites were closed on Wednesday, including Ashkelon National Park, Ein Hemed National Park, the Stalactite Cave, Castel National Park, Yarkon-Afek National Park, Apollonia National Park and the entrance gates to Nahal Sorek – due to fears of flooding, the authority said.

Inclement weather was expected to continue on Thursday, though precipitation would likely be lighter, the IMS forecast. In the snowy portions of the country, snowfall will weaken and occasionally be mixed with rain, while light rain will fall from the North of the country to the central Negev. Winds are also expected to weaken, as are wave heights at sea, though they are still expected to reach 5-7 meters. Temperatures on Thursday will continue to remain significantly lower than usual – prompting fears of ice formation, the IMS said.

Despite the weakened storm conditions on Thursday, snowfall is expected to resume Friday, particularly in the mountains of the Center – including in Jerusalem and the Negev peaks, according to the IMS. By Friday evening, precipitation will weaken, though temperatures will remain very low and possibly prompt ice formation, the IMS warned.

Extremely low temperatures are expected to persist Saturday morning, though they are likely to increase during the day, the IMS forecast. By Saturday afternoon, renewed rainfall, accompanied by thunder, is set to drench northern and central Israel, with strong winds and hail. Snow may fall again on mountain peaks in the North, while flooding may impact the rivers in eastern and southern Israel, the IMS said.

Local rainfall is expected to continue in the Center and South on Sunday, gradually weakening and stopping by evening, the forecast added.

Daniel K. Eisenbud contributed to this report.

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