Chaos in Israel as rain and winds pound the country

Stormy weather causes heavy traffic, shuts down roads, causes damage; snow possible in capital Wednesday, forecasters say.

Windy Ashkelon beach 370 (photo credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen)
Windy Ashkelon beach 370
(photo credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen)
This weekend’s thunderstorms and torrential winds are just the beginning of what will likely be a very wet and perhaps even snowy week.
Storm damage in Mevasseret
Storm damage in Mevasseret
Rainfall from Friday night through noon on Sunday already amounted to between 70 and 100 millimeters in the central Coastal Plain, 40 to 70 millimeters in the Galilee and 20 to 25 millimeters in the Jerusalem region, Dr. Amos Porat, director of the Climate Department at the Israel Meteorological Service, told The Jerusalem Post.
People should brace themselves for large amounts of rainfall in the next few days, as well as very strong winds – particularly on Monday morning – and snowfall later this week in Jerusalem, Porat said. The snow, he said, is expected from Wednesday afternoon through noon on Thursday.
The weekend’s rainfall wreaked havoc on part’s of the central region, with the Herzliya train station shut down until further notice due to massive flooding. After a nearby stream overflowed into the station, leading to the collapse of the drainage system, the station’s underground passage and the entire area around the site were flooded – including nearby roads and the parking lot, Israel Railways said.
Israel Railways is operating a pump to drain the area in an effort to resume normal service as soon as possible, but until then, will provide alternative transportation between the Herzliya Station and the Tel Aviv Savidor Central Station in both directions.
Meanwhile, the Kinneret basin is seeing continued improvement in its water levels. As of Sunday morning, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) was 211.82 meters below sea level, 3.02 meters away from being full, according to Water Authority data. During the month of December alone, the water level rose by 50 centimeters, beginning January at 211.90 meters below sea level.
The Water Authority’s Hydrological Services called this rise “exceptional,” the biggest December rise since 1994. Half of that increase occurred over the course of three days, during the heavy rain that occurred from December 20 to 23.
In the capital, not only was it raining, but residents are anticipating the possible arrival of a winter wonderland – for the second year in a row.
The Jerusalem Municipality ramped up preparation for the storm expected to slam into the city this week, with winds of more than 80 kilometers per hour and perhaps snow. The city recommended that people check their heating systems to ensure they are working properly and make sure there are no leaks in their roofs or windows.
The capital could experience snow on Wednesday afternoon if the storm retains its strength over the coming days.
Jerusalem has only experienced snow once in the past three years – last year. Ahead of the storm, the municipality will increase the number of operators answering the city hotline, *106, who can respond to storm-related inquires including regarding downed trees.
Any school cancellations will be announced over local media, the city said.
The National Road Safety Authority warned people to take precautions when driving and walking against the exceptionally intense rainfall, strong winds and possible snow.
“Alongside the joy of welcome rains, it is important to remember that wetness and winds make driving more difficult and less safe,” the authority said. “In the winter weather, conditions and road conditions are harsher – visibility is limited, roads are slippery and wet, various vehicle systems behave differently and it is harder to notice pedestrians.”
Top on the Road Safety Authority’s winter weather tips list is driving slower in the stormy weather – at least 20 kilometers per hour less in low visibility and at least 30 to 40 kilometers per hour less during rainy periods. Maintaining a greater distance from surrounding vehicles is also critical, as is breaking with moderate force, to prevent the wheels from locking and sliding.
The authority also warned against passing other vehicles during periods of limited visibility, and paying special attention to pedestrians crossing the street, particularly near parks and schools. It is required by law to turn on vehicle lights between November 1 and March 31 each year, and drivers should also ensure that all of their safety systems – such as brakes, tires, wipers and steering – are functioning properly before heading out on the road.
The Road Safety Authority encouraged pedestrians to be especially on guard, taking precautions such as wearing bright and reflective clothing when visibility is low. Where there is no sidewalk, pedestrians should walk against the flow of traffic in order to be able to see approaching vehicles, the authority said. Looking both ways when crossing the street is critical, and if a crosswalk light changes from green to red while a walker is midway across the street, he or she must continue walking.
Pedestrians must refrain from using distracting devices such as mp3 music players and mobile phones when crossing the street, the Road Safety Authority stressed, and when there is no crosswalk, the pedestrian should choose a spot to cross that has the most visibility possible.
The South is experiencing high air pollution levels due to the sand and dust storms created by the windy weather, the Environmental Protection Ministry warned. Areas of particular concern include the Negev, the Coastal Plain, the Shfela basin, Jerusalem and Judea, the ministry said.
Sensitive populations – such as those with heart disease, lung disease, pregnant women, the elderly, and young children – should refrain from strenuous physical activities in the region, the ministry said. As the rain spread southward starting on Sunday night, the dust pollution was expected to decrease, the ministry added.
Because flooding and heavy winds were expected in the South Sunday night through Monday, agriculturalists in the Arava and the Hevel Eilot region were reinforcing their greenhouses and bracing their crops.
The central Arava has 506 farms, covering over 3,500 hectares of agricultural land and producing 60 percent of the country’s fresh agricultural exports – particularly to Europe, according to Arava Research and Development, based at Yair Station near Hatzeva.
Floods often damage the greenhouses, but they are also the main source of water for residents of the region, which receives only about 40 millimeters of rain each year, explained Ami Shacham, CEO of the Arava Drainage Authority. The floodwaters fill the aquifers used by farmers and also improve water quality, Shacham added.
Despite the forecasts for heavy rains, however, he said that they will probably not be enough to fill the aquifers for the year.
Eilon Gadiel, director of Arava Research and Development, stressed that farmers must reinforce their greenhouses as well as their trellised crop installations.
“It is reasonable to assume that such winds will harm greenhouses and crops,” Gadiel said. “We must understand that these are exceptional winds in their intensity and we must prepare for them.”