The first snow of the season began to fall Thursday morning in parts of Jerusalem as a cold front swept through Israel and surrounding areas in the Middle East.As the country was gearing up for stormy winter conditions, flurries fell late Wednesday night on the Golan Heights, the Upper Galilee and the West Bank’s Gush Etzion region.
Despite the morning forecast for flurries, schools in Jerusalem and the North were scheduled to remain open on Thursday. The Education Ministry has opened a hotline for updates on school operations in light of the weather, available by telephone at: 02-6222211. Powerful winds rattled windows and unmanageable floods closed down select schools on Wednesday.“It seems now that it is quite certain that it will snow,” Dr. Amos Porat, director of the Climate Department at the Israel Meteorological Service, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday afternoon.In addition to the more than 10 centimeters of snowfall slated to hit the North on Thursday, up to 10 centimeters of snow is expected to fall on mountain peaks in the country’s central and Jerusalem areas, according to the IMS. Flurries will likely fall over Mizpe Ramon in the Negev, and the largest amount of snow will likely accumulate in the Hebron and Gush Etzion regions – reaching heights of up to 15 to 20 cm., the IMS reported.While this would be the third year in a row for Jerusalem to receive snow, Porat stressed that this only constitutes a coincidence, not a trend.Heavy amounts of rain drenched the Galilee, the Sharon region and Gush Dan overnight on Tuesday, causing Lake Kinneret’s water level to rise by one centimeter on Wednesday morning, according to the Water Authority. By Wednesday afternoon, after additional heavy rains, the Water Authority reported that the Kinneret had risen an additional centimeter, bringing the basin up to 211.38 meters below sea level – 2.58m. from full capacity.As of 4 p.m. on Wednesday, the largest amounts of rain for the day – between 40 and 60 millimeters – fell in the southern Coastal Plain, the central mountains and the Sharon region, the IMS said. In addition to the rains that drenched most areas on Wednesday, strong westerly winds overtook the country by the afternoon, with speeds of up to 50 to 80 kilometers per hour, IMS data reported.Due to the heavy rains, two people were trapped in a car that was swept into the Kidron stream in the West Bank on Wednesday, Judea and Samaria District police said.Officers from the Ma’aleh Adumim station, backed up by search and rescue volunteers, managed to pull the two people from the car and evacuate them from the scene with light injuries.Police from the district advised the public to avoid driving on any roads where there is a danger of flooding. Every year the region sees a large amount of flooding, when heavy rains fill usually dry creek beds.Several schools throughout the country closed Wednesday due to the severe weather conditions.Students in the Tamar Regional Council in the South were urged to stay home for fear of flooding, and in Haifa several schools recorded low attendance and eventually sent students home.Flooding and drainage problems also caused school closures in a number of Arab towns, including Umm el- Fahm, Fureidis and Tira.Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) said the severe weather conditions highlight the gaps in Israeli society.“While many celebrate the snow on the Hermon, tens of thousands of elderly, homeless and poor people cannot afford heating or even warm blankets,” Herzog said.The Labor Party leader called for the prime minister, finance minister and welfare minister to budget resources to provide aid and heating to the needy.Herzog, a former welfare minister, explained that the National Insurance Institute helps in certain towns, but that in the past he funneled emergency funds to welfare offices throughout the country to help those who are suffering from the inclement weather.“I hope that the coming days will pass reasonably and that we will remember who needs our help,” Herzog added.Due to the expected snow accumulation in the North on Thursday, roads in the northern Golan Heights and Upper Galilee may be blocked by the afternoon, the Transportation Ministry warned.In regions unaffected by snow on Thursday, cloudy weather with rain, thunderstorms and occasional hail should occur.Forecasters expressed concern that flooding may occur on Thursday, particularly in the southern Coastal Plain and in the Judean Desert.By evening, the southwesterly winds will likely strengthen, thereby also boosting the intensity of the precipitation, the IMS said.In response to the stormy weather, the Transportation Ministry opened a special situation room at the IMS office in Beit Dagan on Wednesday morning, to monitor the weather and provide possible solutions following blockages or flooding of roads and railways.The situation room will also provide immediate information about any disruptions to incoming and outgoing flights at Ben-Gurion Airport, and will find alternatives for landing elsewhere if conditions do not allow for arrival there, the ministry said.Transportation Ministry director- general Uzi Yitzhaki advised motorists to avoid unnecessary travel in the coming days and make use of public transportation rather than driving.Magen David Adom said Wednesday it is deploying extra rescue personnel to areas expected to receive snow.There are dozens of 4x4 ambulances at the ready, with chains on their tires in order to make sure they can operate in the snow and ice, the rescue service said.Teams have also been training their personnel to deal with victims of exposure and have outfitted them with extra jackets, gloves and overalls.Meanwhile, the National Traffic Police called on the public on Wednesday to pay attention to media reports about weather updates and to make sure to avoid traveling in areas where there is flooding or other dangerous weather or road conditions.Lidar Gravé-Lazi and Ben Hartman contributed to this report.