So far, the major winter storm that hit Israel this week has flooded roads and highways, closed schools and businesses, created monster traffic jams, and caused at least three deaths, due to weather-related traffic accidents.
But, to paraphrase a famous maxim, Israelis ain't seen nothin' yet.
After four straight days of heavy, unceasing rain, many areas of the country have already reached or exceeded their annual winter rainfall levels. Since the storm started on Shabbat, several kibbutzim in northern Israel have recorded in the area of 250 millimeters of rain, and many more are expected to join that “club” in the coming days.
Since the beginning of one of the wettest winters in years, Haifa has already recorded 542 millimeters of rain – more than twice its annual average. Tel Aviv also has its average beat, with 136% of its annual average rain having fallen as of January 8, and the same holds true for Jerusalem (136%), Tzfat (211%), and Nahariya (192%). Even Eilat has joined the party, with more than twice as much rain falling this season as in an average year. According to the Meteorological Service, this season is likely to beat the 1994-95 season, the last time such heavy rains fell in Israel throughout the winter season.
But the best is yet to come, say forecasters. Precipitation will continue and get even heavier Tuesday night, Wednesday, and Wednesday night, as temperatures continue to drop. The combination of wet weather and cold temperatures is the perfect recipe for snowfall, which forecasters say is likely to hit the country in a big way Wednesday night and Thursday. Far from falling only in the Hermon, accumulations are expected in many parts of the country, including the hills of Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem. The Jerusalem municipality has entered a “snow emergency readiness,” preparing dozens of plows to keep main arteries open.
Meanwhile, reports kept pouring in Tuesday night of emergencies, with people trapped on upper stories of buildings or even the roofs of automobiles in order to avoid rising floodwaters. In one instance, five people who were driving near Nachal Alexander, near the coast in central Israel, were engulfed by a sudden overflow of the river. They climbed up to the roof of their vehicle, and were stranded there until they were removed by helicopter. In another instance, 15 members of a family in the Arab village of Baka al-Gharbiya were stuck on the roof of a building, unable to climb down the stairs because of flooding. They, too, were evacuated by helicopter.
Because of the storm, the Homefront Command said that it was opening an emergency activity office to coordinate rescue efforts. With the storm set to intensify, a spokesperson for the government office said, workers will be on call day and night to immediately deal with emergencies as they arise.