Jerusalem braces for snowfall as winter storm intensifies

Capital readies plows and tractors, rains expected to continue across country

Mount Hermon ski resort, January 24, 2015 (photo credit: MT. HERMON MEDIA)
Mount Hermon ski resort, January 24, 2015
(photo credit: MT. HERMON MEDIA)
As snow began piling up on the Golan Heights and rains poured over the rest of the country on Sunday, residents of Jerusalem and other central mountainous regions braced for their own wintry weather over the coming days.
Snow would likely accumulate in the North and begin to coat the central mountains overnight Sunday, starting to fall over the capital and Negev peaks by Monday evening, according the Israel Meteorological Service forecast.
Although the IMS is only projecting that a few centimeters of snow will grace Jerusalem, preparations already were underway due to the freezing weather in the city; Sunday’s low in the capital was 1° Celsius, but it could reach -1° Celsius by Wednesday.
On the highways surrounding and leading into Jerusalem, as well as on roads leading to hospitals, 47 heavy vehicles – such as snowplows and tractors – were standing at the ready to keep roads clear and provide assistance, according to Netivei Israel – National Transport Infrastructure Company Ltd.
The Jerusalem Municipality completed citywide preparations ahead of Monday’s expected snowfall, and issued an advisory for all residents and visitors to stay abreast of potential transportation changes and safety measures via its website and emergency call centers. It will provide up-to-the-minute information on road conditions, school closings, emergency services, and public transportation changes on its website:
“If conditions worsen, the municipality is prepared to deploy dozens of additional snow plows and tractors, engineering vehicles and scores of 4x4 vehicles for assistance to keep the roads clear,” it said in a statement.
“The municipality has procured more than 400 tons of salt for snow removal, which will be distributed at community centers, in neighborhoods and at 500 education institutions across the city.”
Moreover, the municipality said it has “collected thousands of food rations, thousands of shovels, scores of heating supplies, hot water bags, emergency lighting and hundreds of blankets and sleeping bags” that will be distributed to community centers for needy residents.
Additionally, the municipality has instructed supermarkets and suppliers to prepare and equip as necessary to meet the needs of the capital’s residents before the storm hits.
Finance Ministry officials expressed concern Sunday that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat would use the expected snowfall as an excuse to ask for a huge sum of money for the city. Barkat has clashed with the Treasury twice in the last few months over funding demands.
“We hope he will prepare properly for the snow and not just ask for hundreds of millions,” a source in the Finance Ministry said. “If he tries that, it won’t work. I want blonde hair and blue eyes, but it’s not going to happen.”
Throughout the day on Sunday, much of the country was battered with rain, thunderstorms and high winds, which the IMS said will continue into Wednesday.
In the South, where the IMS reported temperatures hitting a low of 2° Celsius on Sunday, which could drop to 0° Celsius by Wednesday, the service issued continued flood and flash floods warnings.
During the daytime hours on Sunday, heavy winds at a speed of 15 kph and up to 35 kph were reported in Jerusalem, according to data from the IMS. The strongest winds were recorded in Gush Dan and parts of the Negev near Mitzpe Ramon, reaching speeds ranging from 20 to 40 kph.
Jerusalem has received 36 mm. of rainfall since Friday; 11 mm. has fallen in Safed; 9 mm. in Haifa; and 6 mm. in Beersheba, the data said.
The coldest temperature in the country was recorded in Safed, where the IMS reported a low of -1° Celsius; the temperature there is forecast to drop to -2° on Wednesday.
Water levels at the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) rose by 0.5 mm. on Sunday, according to the Water Authority, still leaving 4.04 meters left until the sea can be considered at full capacity. The Kinneret has risen 20 cm. since the rainy season began, but the increase is still considered low compared with 2013, when it rained 20 cm. in a single day.
Earlier on Sunday, fire and rescue crews across the country were ready with heavy equipment to rescue people from snow and flooding situations and trainees were called up for backup.
In some places, buses were being outfitted with chains in order to drive through the snow.
On Mount Hermon, a spokeswoman for the site’s ski resort reported that 20 cm. of snow had already fallen with more continuing to come down.
Magen David Adom warned the public on Sunday to make sure that babies, children and the elderly are kept protected from the elements. MDA said its medics and paramedics are ready to help people in need and to ensure that its ambulances can pass in the event of closed roads.
Since ice on streets and sidewalks caused many road accidents and broken bones in Jerusalem two years ago, MDA urged the public to avoid driving and even walking unnecessarily under such conditions and to be on the lookout for flower pots, antennas and other objects that could fly in the wind, as well as pergolas, garden chairs and roofs that could collapse under more than 10 cm. of snow.
As for heating, MDA said rooms with kerosene, gas and other heating systems must be ventilated since these devices produce odorless and tasteless carbon monoxide.
It also warned people to avoid placing flammable objects, including blankets and furniture, near open flames or electric heaters, and to keep them out of the reach of young children.
MDA recommended that children and the elderly be dressed in several layers of light clothing and supplied with light blankets. Rooms should be heated to 24° Celsius, and Dr. Benny Raviv, director of the emergency room as the Western Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, recommended drinking warm beverages.
During freezing temperatures, not only the elderly and young, but also the homeless and alcoholics are at high risk of hypothermia. Signs of the condition include breathlessness, sleepiness, reduced urination and slow reactions.
Frostbite, meanwhile, presents itself as a feeling of cold in the limbs, pain and lack of sensation; it should be treated quickly using lukewarm water and the “frozen” limb should not be massaged.
The Yad Sarah organization has prepared its fleet of Nechonit vans to take patients who need dialysis or urgent cancer treatments to hospitals at no cost, and also will provide emergency oxygen canisters to those whose electricity supply has been disrupted. Those in need of assistance should call *6444.
To protect their homes, residents with solar heaters in areas with temperatures close to freezing should allow faucets to drip slowly from the hot water tap to prevent water in the pipes inside the mechanisms from freezing and exploding.