The weather in Israel continued to be unstable on Thursday morning after the haze Wednesday that caused high levels of pollution, was cleared by rain in some areas of the country.Snow in the North covered the Hermon and northern Golan Heights in white, causing a number of school closures. Police closed some area roads due to the snow. Rain is expected to continue Thursday, accompanied by strong winds and thunderstorms. Extremely heavy winds caused damage in the Gush Etzion area where several roofs were blown away from temporary structures. Some residents were forced to evacuate.
On Wednesday, air pollution levels hit their highest concentrations in the past five years, climbing to around 40 times their normal daily values.
“The level of air pollution measured over the past day is exceptional compared to previous years, and from a national perspective this is the largest and most extensive dust storm in the past five years,” a statement from the Environmental Protection Ministry said.
The high air pollution levels persisted around the country throughout the day, with the dust beginning to settle in the North by evening as a result of rain, and in the central coastal plain gradually thereafter, according to the ministry.
Dust concentrations reached 40 times their typical daily average in some areas, climbing to 51 times the local average in the northeastern Negev city of Arad, the ministry reported.
By evening, Magen David Adom teams had treated 384 people suffering from respiratory and circulatory difficulties as a result of the dust storm, the rescue service said.
The abnormal amounts of air pollution are associated with a deep depression over the eastern Mediterranean Sea, transporting dust from North Africa to the region. While this is the most widespread dust storm in five years in terms of air pollution levels, similar concentrations of dust were measured during March 2012 and both May and December 2010, the ministry said.
“Thanks to the widespread distribution of many monitoring stations across the country, the public is able to receive the most reliable data over the course of the storm,” said Deputy Environmental Protection Minister Ophir Akunis.
“Although the dust is beginning to settle, guidelines for sensitive population members are still to avoid physical exertion.”
Concentrations of PM10 – particles with a diameter of 10 microns – in the city of Arad reached up to 3,083 micrograms per cubic meter at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, according to ministry measurements. In the central cities of Givatayim and Rehovot, dust levels reached 2,853 and 2,802 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively, also in the early morning hours. Beersheba dust concentration rose to a maximum of 2,278 micrograms per cubic meter, while those in Jerusalem and Haifa reached 2,520 and 1,754 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively. Levels in Modi’in climbed to 2,798 micrograms per cubic meter.
While the average PM10 concentrations for these cities, from 1 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, were far from the maximum levels, they still reached nearly 40 times typical daily concentrations.
On a normal clear day, the average concentration of dust on a national level is about 50-60 micrograms per cubic meter, Eitan Maza, an air pollution forecaster for the ministry, told The Jerusalem Post.
The average levels on Wednesday for Arad, Rehovot, and Givatayim – the cities whose PM10 measurements climbed to the highest – were 1,863, 1,922, and 1,863 micrograms per cubic meter that day.
While several conflicting models exist regarding the rest of the dust storm, Maza stressed that, despite the projected air quality improvements in the North and Center, areas in the Negev will likely still experience poor breathing conditions on Thursday.
As a result of the storm, the ministry recommended that the elderly, children, pregnant women, and those with heart or lung issues refrain from strenuous physical activity and remain indoors.