Sand Storm Still Suffocating Until Rosh Hashanah

Massive storm enters fourth day, with flights still affected and health warnings in place due to high particulates and temperatures.

Ari Yashar,

Jerusalem's Temple Mount in dust storm
Jerusalem's Temple Mount in dust storm
Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

The severe dust storm that struck Israel on Tuesday shows no signs of disappearing on Friday, with the dense clouds of particulates and sand that are enveloping the Jewish state set to remain through the weekend.

While the high temperatures, dust and haze are to remain through Shabbat, they are predicted to largely dissipate by the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, which starts Sunday night.

All of the particulates in the skies have led to a very high level of air pollution that has seen many Israelis suffer from breathing problems.

In the Jezreel Valley, Modi'in and Beit Shemesh, the particulate concentration levels reached an incredible 1,500 micrometers, while in Jerusalem, Eilat and the western Galilee, those values were at 1,300 micrometers. Readings in Haifa and the coastal region around Tel Aviv were also above the air pollution alert level.

The dust and sand in the air has been accompanied by a suffocating heat that has yet to relent on Friday. The town of Katzrin in the Golan Heights is predicted to reach a high of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), while Tzfat (Safed) is to reach 39 C (102 F), Eilat in the south is to hit a whopping 43 C (109 F), Jerusalem 35 C (95 F), and 32 C (89 F) in both Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Domestic flights to Eilat by the local airlines Arkia and Israir have been canceled for the last two days due to the dust storm, but on Friday flights will resume to Ovda airport in the Negev, and from there passengers will be transported by shuttles to Eilat.

Ushering in Rosh Hashanah on Sunday evening the temperatures are expected to fall, and on Monday during the first day of the holiday they are to drop even further and return to near normal degrees for the season. Local rain in the eastern part of Israel is anticipated on Monday afternoon, possibly indicating a cleaning of the dusty air.

Dr. Levana Cordova-Bijoner, director of the national monitoring branch of the Environment Ministry, told Walla! that either strong eastern winds or rain would have cleared some of the dust out of the air, but the weak winds Israel has been experiencing have not helped.

"Currently we are still seeing high concentrations of particles in the air, meaning there's a danger to the health of the public," said Cordova-Bijoner. "It will settle gradually because the winds are very weak. The expectation is that during the weekend, on Saturday night, things will improve."

"We see there are many more visits to the emergency rooms and to doctors due to shortness of breath among patients in danger, those with heart disease, the elderly, children and pregnant women. Therefore the Environment Ministry has issued a warning to stay indoors, and for the healthy population to avoid intense sports. We called on students to stay in the classrooms and hallways during breaks, to hold PE classes in gym halls and to cancel outdoor trips."