It’s raining, it’s pouring – in Israel – but it’s June.
In the past three weeks, between May 27 and June 13, Israel has had four significant showers accompanied by thunderstorms, on top of severe heat – very uncommon at this time of year.
Rains like this, if Israel experiences them, historically occur in mid-spring.
The only additional recorded instance of multiple storms of this nature at this time of year was in June 1957, when two occurred, according to the Israel Meteorological Service.
While the amount of rain was not particularly large, ranging from drops to about four millimeters, there were several differences between these rains and the summer drizzles the country generally experiences. The weather has piqued the interest of meteorologists, who are highlighting the differences and asking if this has to do with climate change.
According to Hadas Saaroni, a climatologist at the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University, the weather resulted from North African cyclones traveling on a southern track from Libya toward Israel, resulting in heat waves and rain due to tropical humidity – rather than humidity that enters mainly from the Mediterranean Sea.
Usually, rains are the result of cold fronts.
Also unique, she said, was the thunder and lightning. There have only been a few events that included thunderstorms – June 16, 1992; June 4-5, 1978; June 11, 1965; June 11-12, 1957 – and these recent events.
Is global warming the cause?
However, this does not necessarily mean that the storms result from global warming, cautioned Amos Porat, head of climatic services at the Israel Meteorological Service. He told The Jerusalem Post that while consistent, rising temperatures and an increase in heat waves are a direct result of greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change, rain is hard to attribute directly.
“We have to keep tracking these instances until we can conclude there is a change of patterns,” Porat said, adding that “we must wait at least three years” to know if this is a permanent shift.
“It could be in the next few years everything will return to how it was, and this will just be a year with unusual rainfall,” he said. “We should not jump to conclusions.”
Porat added that the country could expect another heat wave this weekend, and then temperatures should return to normal.
Saaroni expressed similar sentiments.
Heavy rain and heat waves
“Climate change is a change in frequency, intensity or duration, which can only be determined over a long series of events,” she said, adding that “the possibility of global warming cannot be ruled out.”
The climatologist said more extreme weather events, especially severe heat waves, could be expected as the climate changes.
During the last 45 years, Saaroni said, there was no significant change in the annual rainfall in Israel. However, the number of rainy days has decreased while the intensity of the rain has increased. She cautioned that the change was still statistically insignificant due to the significant inter-annual variations. The results of these changes, together with the warming, which intensifies evaporation, are well seen in the natural flora, water sources and the environment.
Future projections of drying, on the one hand, and intensifying rain events, on the other, are cause for concern.