Israelis suffer through worst dust storm in 10 years

Electricity demand breaks records, hundreds treated at hospitals, flights canceled.

By
September 10, 2015 01:59
3 minute read.
Israel weather

Hazy, dusty conditions in Israel. (photo credit: Lahav Harkov)

 
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A thick haze blanketed the nation’s skies for the second day in a row on Wednesday, as electricity consumption broke records amid escalating temperatures.

Poor visibility, heavy heat and extreme mugginess are forecast throughout the country into Thursday and beyond. The dusty weather is the heaviest and most polluting to hit the country in 15 years, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry.

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Peak electricity demand hit an all-time high on Wednesday, climbing to 12,905 megawatts at 2:45 p.m., with the Israel Electric Corporation providing 10,065 megawatts and private power producers supplying the remainder. Previously, the record was broken during the second heat wave of the summer, with consumption reaching 12,800 megawatts on August 3.

Visibility in most parts of the country ranged from 1 to 3 kilometers or even less, according to Israel Meteorological Service Climate Department head Dr. Amos Porat. The haze, which Porat described on Tuesday as “unprecedented for this time of year,” was the result of sandstorms in Syria.

There have been no reports of such heavy haze in early September since the country began recording weather measurements 75 years ago, Porat explained. Syrian sandstorms, which have been raging in the neighboring country’s deserts in recent days, were driven to this region by northeasterly winds at a low altitude, he said.

“It is not clear what caused the exceptional sandstorms in Syria,” Porat said on Wednesday.

“They did have some weather activity and strong winds, but not on a scale that can account for what happened. We are trying find an explanation.”

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About 600 people have been treated at hospitals as a result of the dust storm. The particulate matter in the air, which can seep into homes, is dangerous to people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart conditions, as well as to pregnant women and young children.

Health and environmental officials have urged such people not to go outdoors and to refrain from exerting themselves physically if they do so.

Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, levels of PM10 – particulate matter with a diameter of 10 microns or less – far exceeded typical daily averages for a non-stormy day, which would be around 60 micrograms per cubic meter, Environmental Protection Ministry data showed. In most areas, the PM10 levels peaked on Tuesday, but still remained extremely high on Wednesday.

The ministry’s Jerusalem monitoring station measured levels of 10,280 micrograms per cubic meter at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, with an average of 3,372 micrograms per cubic meter from 4 p.m. Monday to 4 p.m. Tuesday. As of 4 p.m.

Wednesday, the 24-hour average for the capital decreased to 1458 micrograms per cubic meter.

Among Wednesday’s most problematic spots for dust levels was Beit Shemesh, where the maximum PM10 level was 9,888 micrograms per cubic meter at 12 p.m. and the average for the 24-hour average as of 4 p.m. was 1,879 micrograms per cubic meter. Arad had an average PM10 level of 2,603 micrograms per cubic meter, while those in Modi’in, Rehovot, Givatayim, Karmiel, Afula and Haifa hovered in the 1,750 to 1,900 microgram per cubic meter range.

Due to the heavy haze, both Arkia Israel Airlines and Israir Airlines extended cancellation of all of their flights to and from Eilat until at least 12:00 noon on Thursday.

Overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday, minimum temperatures in most areas of the country were the highest ever measured for September, and those in the Dead Sea and Arava Desert were the highest minimum temperatures ever recorded for any day of the year, according to IMS data. In Sodom, the minimum nighttime temperature was a suffocating 36.5°C.

Although high minimum temperatures plagued the whole country, the Coastal Plain, the Shfela, the Jezreel Valley and the northern Negev also suffered from 85-95 percent humidity, the IMS said.

Unseasonably warm conditions would likely continue through Sunday, although temperatures were expected to drop slightly on Friday, IMS forecasts said. Dust conditions would remain throughout the day Thursday, only settling on Friday, the IMS added.

Judy Siegel contributed to this report.

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