Heavy winds, haze shutter Eilat airport

Air pollution 15-25 times higher than normal on Wednesday, downing trees and reducing visibility.

Tova Dvorin , | updated: 11:18 AM

Tel Aviv skyline in haze; Nov. 4, 2015
Tel Aviv skyline in haze; Nov. 4, 2015
Miriam Alster/Flash90

Heavy winds downed trees and carried in a dust storm overnight Tuesday/Wednesday, bringing air pollution levels to 15-25 times the normal level and raising safety concerns. Meteorologists report that the dust storm was brought by winds as high as 60 kph (37 mph) from Jordan and Saudi Arabia - bringing with it sand, and therefore, air pollution. 

Air pollution reached the most dangerous levels in the eastern Negev, a meteorologist from the Environmental Protection Agency stated Wednesday morning, with levels estimated to be twice as high as the maximum considered a danger to public health. 

As of late Tuesday night, air pollution levels in Be'er Sheva were 24 times higher than normal; in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, 20 times; in Rehovot, 17 times; in Givatayim, 15 times; in Tel Aviv, 12 times; and in Ashkelon, 10 times higher than average. 

The EPA has advised all 'populations at-risk' - including the visually-impaired, the handicapped, the elderly, pregnant women, and children - to refrain from intensive physical activity outdoors until the storm passes. 

The Economy Minister's Occupational Health and Safety Administration has also advised construction workers to be aware of the increased accident risk at building sites due to the storm. 

Rerouting transportation

The Israel Airport Authority shuttered the Eilat airport due to the high winds early Wednesday morning, citing low visibility. The IAA is reportedly considering redirecting flights to the nearby Ovda airport, but such an order has not yet been confirmed. 

Arkia Israel airlines has redirected its flights from Sde Dov airport in Tel Aviv to Ben-Gurion International airport from 8:00 am - 2:00 pm Wednesday because of the inclement weather. Israir has halted all internal flights until 3:00 pm. 

The dust storm has affected ground transportation as well; in the North, the Israel Police have closed routes 917, from Kfar Blum to Lehavot Habashan, and 918, from Gonen junction, due to downed trees. 

Wind, dust, and localized rain is expected to continue throughout Wednesday, and taper off only Thursday. 

Preparing for power failures

The Israel Electric Company (IEC) has warned of power outages in the hardest-hit areas Wednesday morning, in an early warning message which may be prompted by a wave of public scrutiny following last week's thunderstorm. 

Over 200,000 people were without power early last week, after a heavy rainstorm pummeled power lines nationwide. Power outages remained for days in some of the worst-hit areas, including the Sharon region. 

"A combination of dust and rain could cause power supply disruptions and the company is preparing accordingly," the IEC stated early Wednesday. "In the case of downed lines or damage to electrical facilities, stay away and report to the IEC via the app or the 103 hotline."