Nothing is more boring that someone else's weather.
However, this is Jerusalem. And there is a policy angle to every story.
Snow is a rarity. Until last year, it had only amounted to a 3-5 inches once every 5-10 years, with a dusting once or twice between then.
Even a dusting frightens the natives, and is likely to close the schools and cause a run on the food markets.
If there is a word for snow shovel in Hebrew, I haven't learned it. After a serious storm, one sees people digging out their cars with garden hoes and the plastic dust pans that usually collect household dirt in front of a broom.
Last year was a different story. There was a foot of the stuff on our balcony, and the two roads westward to the rest of the country were clogged for days with abandoned cars.
Those who only dream of Jerusalem may not realize that it is a mountain city.
The city itself has no steep hills, but it is 2500 feet above sea level, midway on a north-south ridge from Nablus in the north to Hebron in the south. The decline to the east and the Jordan Valley is very steep, going down to more than a thousand feet below sea level (i.e., a drop of 3,500 feet) in about 10 miles. To the west it is more gradual. It drops about 1500 feet in spans of three to five miles on the two main roads. While the road to the east is not heavily traveled, those to the west are crowded with commuters between Jerusalem and the metropolis centered on Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem is on the edge of a relatively well watered portion of the Middle East. Annual rainfall is 537 mm, only 50mm less than that of London. What distinguishes us from London is the even distribution of English rain, and the clustering of Israeli rain in four months (December-March) with the rest of the year under a hot and drying sun.
Ten miles to the east is real desert, with annual rainfall 40 mm.
For several days the news featured a coming storm, likely to resemble last year's in the amount of snow dumped on Jerusalem. Time and again we heard the expectations from Tuesday afternoon: heavy winds and lots of dust to rain, then snow sometimes on Wednesday, likely to continue to Friday or Sunday. Temperatures would get close to or even below 0 C, well below what is usually the coldest day of the year.
Expectations did not settle the disputes about global warming, but they added their bit to the discussion.
Public authorities announced plans that must sound like panic in my former home town of Madison, Wisconsin. The police planned to close both main roads to Jerusalem from the west at least an hour before they expected the snow to begin. Already on Monday, two days before the first flake was expected, the Hebrew University announced that it would close early on Wednesday, and might remain closed until Sunday. Later, again before the first drop or flake landed on the city, the university announced that it would close all day on Wednesday. The police announced that main streets in Jerusalem would be closed to private traffic, in order to keep them free for emergency vehicles.
In a situation when years can pass between storms that put two inches of snow on Jerusalem's streets, there is no justification for acquiring the equipment typical of northern Europe and the US. Authorities contract for the services of construction equipment and their operators. Front end loaders are the typical way of keeping main roads open. The IDF sends armored personnel carriers to the city that can travel on their tracks to bring people to hospital, or to splash a path through the snow for other vehicles. If snow gets to the level of last year, it takes a couple of days to clean the side streets, and for residents to dig out cars with their dust pans.
Even heavy rain is too much for some areas. The Jordan Valley is dangerous due to flash floods, with water cascading through usually dry wadis from the rain that falls in the mountains. Each year there are stories of tourists trapped, rescued by IDF helicopter, or gone missing until a battered body is found when the water recedes. Neighborhoods of coastal cities and stretches of main roads are vulnerable to floods that overwhelm the infrastructure.
Where it is not worth preparing a country for what happens routinely far to the north, it is efficient to close roads and keep school kids and employees at home when something big is expected.
Insofar as the border between the first and third worlds is close by, it's not hard to find greater suffering.
Very little of the money pledged to reconstruct Gaza has been delivered. Israel has allowed the transfer of concrete, along with procedures in cooperation with the UN meant to assure that it goes to civilian and not military purposes. Corruption was expected, and has been reported. Electricity is dicey. People are cold, miserable, and most likely angry. There have been reports of deaths due to the cold.
Electricity may get to be a problem in Israel. People wrestle throughout the year, with some defending regulations against cutting down trees (helped along by the plant a tree tradition), and others who support the Electric Company's program to remove trees likely to fall in high winds and bring down electric wires. Areas that get their power from buried cables are less likely to be troubled by interruptions.
We had three invitations to spend these days with family living in the lowlands, but decided that this could be fun. Should something dramatic actually happen, those relatives could bring the kids to Jerusalem when the roads open. That is, if they are willing to risk a trip of hours to get here along with much of the population, inching their way along clogged roads, with everyone wanting to see the snow before it melts.
If you're really dying to know what happened?
A bit of snow on Wednesday, but nothing abnormal. Maybe two inches on our balcony, that melted throughout Thursday. Schools and roads opened in Jerusalem (with the exception of the Hebrew University, which seems to be an organizational elephant not capable of rapid shifts in direction), but the news was filled with which sections of which roads remained closed here and there.
There was another wave of snow, along with cold Friday afternoon and evening, but nothing dramatic.
Saturday morning there wasn't much snow, but ice was a problem.
One might think that with the Dead Sea and all its salt only 15 miles to the east, there should not be a problem in salting the roads. Given the lack of drivers' experience with the stuff, however, as well as the cost of acquiring equipment that would seldom be used, it may be better to persuade drivers to stay at home, and close stretches of road where necessary.
Saturday evening a text message received from Hebrew University, acting as the mother of us all. It said that classes would resume on Sunday, and urged us to be careful of ice as we make our way to the campus..
Expectations of great snow in Jerusalem did not pan out. Weather fronts hereabouts are typically clusters of action with periods of quiet, and they often drift north from what had been thought to be paths toward Jerusalem.
Policymaking operates on probabilities, as does weather forecasting. Elsewhere in the country there was enough snow to cause the closing of roads. Anyone thinking of travel had to ponder what was heard from the weather people and police reports about road closings, openings and closings.
It was a bust for those wanting to play in the snow of Jerusalem. Rain was more persistent than snow. More than 150 mm of precipitation fell on our balcony from Tuesday through Sunday morning. We stayed indoors with nothing to do but absorb the assaults on civilization in Paris, and contemplate the implications.
It would have been happier if the weekend was whiter and quieter.