Winds thick with dust swirled at speeds of 75 kilometers per hour on Tuesday, shaking windowpanes and tree branches as the country braced for a winter storm.
As the winds – accompanied by gusts of up to 90 kph – blew throughout the country, the Golan Heights and Galilee awaited overnight snowfall likely to pile up by Wednesday morning.
Emergency services around the Jerusalem area, meanwhile, continued preparations for the wintry mess expected to coat the capital by midday Wednesday.
On Tuesday evening, the Jerusalem Municipality announced the cancellation of all daycare centers, preschools and schools due to the impending snow. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem canceled all classes for Wednesday and Thursday.
The Education Ministry announced the cancellation of classes in all areas surrounding Jerusalem, including Givat Ze’ev, Mevaseret Zion, and the Gush Etzion and Mateh Yehuda regions.
Schools in the Misgav region and in the Upper Galilee also announced cancellations. In Safed, the municipality said it would only announce school closures at 5 a.m., following an assessment of the situation.
The IDF Home Front Command went on standby in the Safed and Jerusalem areas on Tuesday ahead of the storm. A police hotline has been opened for the public to report problems related to the expected snow: 1-700- 705-100.
Col. Itzik Bar, operations officer for the Home Front Command, said he hoped civilian authorities would be able to take the lead in responding to the weather, and that the military would take a back-seat role.
“Our mission is to assist the Israel Police, which has command-and-control leadership of this event. We are the military assistance branch. All of the military’s help will go through the Home Front Command,” Bar said.
Stressing that all preparation was complete, he added that the police would be shutting down roads to Jerusalem and Safed upon the first snowfall.
Meanwhile, all of the relevant organizations will be operating a joint command room, he said.
The Home Front Command has deployed snow plows to the areas likely to be affected by the snow, and armored personnel carriers are on standby, ready to head out with medical crews to areas that are in need of assistance.
“We are assisting the Israel Electric Corporation in the North and Jerusalem, and are ready to move their repair crews, and deliver generators to areas that might be cut off from the grid,” Bar said. “We have also coordinated with the firefighters and Magen David Adom paramedics, who have concentrated units in the North and Jerusalem.”
Preparatory activities have been significantly stronger than those ahead of the last big storm in November 2013, which battered Safed and Jerusalem with snow, leaving drivers stranded in their vehicles and residents trapped in homes without power and heat, Bar added.
On Tuesday morning, heavy dust storms affected the South of the country, expanding to the Center by the afternoon.
The Environmental Protection Ministry updated the public about high air pollution levels via pop-up alerts on the popular Waze navigation application.
Air pollution levels hit up to 38 times their normal concentrations in the eastern Negev, reaching 2,280 micrograms per cubic meter, ministry data said. In Beersheba, air pollution concentration was 30.6 times normal levels – reaching 1,838 micrograms per cubic meter – while in Jerusalem, air pollution concentration was 25 times normal air pollution concentrations, at 1,500 micrograms per cubic meter.
The high air pollution is associated with the deep depression over the eastern Mediterranean, causing the southwesterly transport of dust from North Africa to the region, the Environmental Protection Ministry said. Particularly high air pollution is expected to affect the area of Eilat through Ashdod through Wednesday, the ministry added.
As a result, the ministry recommended that sensitive members of the population, including those with heart and lung conditions, the elderly, children or pregnant women, refrain from physical activity.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, meanwhile, warned members of the public about the dangers of flooding, advising responsible travel and warning that some sites may close during the inclement weather.
At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, the Transportation Ministry will hold the first session of its storm situation room, which will be housed in the Israel Meteorological Services office in Beit Dagan. There, ministry officials will coordinate information from all of the agencies under its jurisdiction, including the Airports Authority, Netivei Israel – National Transport Infrastructure Company, Israel Railways, the Jerusalem Light Rail, and public transportation companies and ports, the ministry said.
As a result of the strong winds and high waves, the Transportation Ministry said that entry and exit of ships would be restricted at the Ashdod and Haifa ports.
The Israel Electric Corporation stressed the importance of maintaining distance from torn wires and electrical facilities, and instructed members of the public to report safety hazards immediately through the company’s website, Facebook page or *103 call center. In addition, the IEC recommended reinforcing objects on balconies and roofs that might break off or fly away with the wind, such as electric water boilers or flower pots.
The National Road Safety Authority warned vehicle operators to driver more slowly in poor-visibility conditions and maintain a safe distance from other cars.
Passing should be avoided as much as possible, and drivers must remember to maintain the safety systems of their vehicles, the authority continued. In addition, headlights must be switched on at all times between November 1 and March 31 each year.
Because wintry weather causes poor visibility, pedestrians must use extra caution when crossing the roads, as their movement is more difficult for drivers to detect, the authority added.
At the Knesset on Tuesday, preparations for the storm were also under way. All operating systems and backups were tested against electricity failures, and reinforced snow vehicles were made available for any legislator or vital worker who might need to reach the building, the Knesset said.
Education Ministry Director-General Michal Cohen instructed the education system on Tuesday to prepare for the storm.
As part of its preparation efforts, the ministry opened operation rooms in Jerusalem districts to monitor developments closely 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 Education Ministry representatives as needed, to assess the situation and decide whether to cancel classes, the ministry said.
The ministry also announced that on Wednesday through Friday, all school trips to areas with expected snow or flooding would be canceled and redirected to alternate locations.
However, the matriculation exam in literature will take place as scheduled on Thursday. In the event of school closures, the ministry said it would provide a “response” to students unable to take the exam.
The Justice Ministry announced that all legal departments and courts in Jerusalem would be closed on Wednesday and Thursday. The ministry’s service and information center in Jerusalem will continue to operate, however, and in urgent cases, residents will be able to receive assistance in offices outside the capital, the ministry said.
Israel Railways will run extra trains to and from the Jerusalem Malha station during and after the snowstorm, providing an emergency service for as long as necessary while Route 1 to Tel Aviv is closed. According to Israel Railways spokesman Israel Tal-Saranga, the exact timetable has not yet been fixed, but will depend on conditions and the number of people needing to travel.
Sybil Ehrlich contributed to this report.