There was snow in Yerushalayim, hail in Tel Aviv, rain, flooding, power failures and general mayhem on the roads and railways, as this year’s showpiece storm nearly brought the entire country to a halt on Wednesday.
Some Israelis wait all winter for snow, others travel across the country to see it and be photographed with it, some dread the business losses and travel delays, not to mention devastating floods. But all are focused on it, a dramatic change from politics and Palestinians as usual.
In some cases, the extreme weather was a matter of life and death. A child was saved from drowning in Modi’in Illit, after falling into a rushing river created by the torrential rains in the streets, Arutz Sheva reported.
The military authorities responsible for the region declared a state of emergency, issuing warnings not to drive in the eastern side of Modiin Illit due to flooding of the Dolbe River. Nevertheless, early Tuesday morning, despite the warnings, a local resident went out into the area and was caught in the floodwaters. A Hatzalah unit came to his aid just in time, extricating him from his vehicle only minutes before it was swept away into the surging river.
Seven children were pulled out of a car caught in flooding in Yerushalayim, Haaretz said.
Overnight Tuesday, hundreds of people in the town of Bat Hefer in the Sharon spent the night trapped in their homes by floodwaters. About 200 homes were flooded, and rescue teams were set to take them out by boat on Wednesday morning.
The bodies of two women were found Wednesday morning near the Shomron town of Einav. They were identified as a Palestinian Authority resident Arab woman and a member of the Samaritan population. Police said rushing flood waters swept their car off the road. A third death was reported in the PA town of Attil, in flooding there.
Three people were injured in Rishon Letzion, two by a tree knocked down by the powerful winds, another was slightly hurt by flying construction debris.
In Ashdod, a 30-year old man was treated for hypothermia.
There was serious flooding in Hadera on the northern coast where 2,500 homes were without electricity for several hours. Highway 90 was closed to traffic in both directions from the Dead Sea to Ein Gedi due to flooding.
Due to the weather, parts of the following roads in the north, Road 99, Road 98, Road 90 and Road 804, and in the south, sections of roads 90 and 234 were blocked as of Wednesday evening.
Snow in Yerushalayim was light on Wednesday, including about 0.78 inches in Gilo and Pisgat Ze’ev.
Schoolchildren were sent home at midday, and some could be seen making small snowmen with the limited materials available.
More snow was forecast for the capital Wednesday night and municipal preparations included 100 snow plows and some 40 tons of salt to keep the roads safe for traffic. The cost of what has come to be known as “Operation Snow” in the capital has reached over a quarter of a million dollars, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The heaviest snow was in the north. A foot of snow fell in the Golan, and there were some school closing reported. Schools were reported closed in Tzfas and roads leading to and from the holy city were blocked by snow as of Wednesday night.
The snow was reported falling as far south as Gush Etzion.
Some of Tel Aviv’s main arteries were again closed due to weather conditions at various times, and the police have asked drivers to stay out of central Tel Aviv, and to avoid driving if possible.
It may be hyperbole to call it “Frankenstorm” or “Israel’s Sandy,” as some have done, but the Israel Meteorological Service has pronounced it the biggest storm in ten years. They said Israel hasn’t seen a storm of this magnitude since February 2003 in terms of both rainfall and the number of days of heavy rain.
Haifa, for instance, has received as much rain as it normally sees in an entire winter, while the north in general got about 90 percent of its allotment for a typical winter. Wind velocity in Haifa was clocked at as much as 75 mph., the strongest in the country.
Perhaps the best news of all, though, came from the Kinneret where the water level stood at 211.34 meters below sea level on Wednesday morning, a 16-centimeter rise from the previous morning and just 2.50 meters from being filled to capacity. Total gain from the storm thus far was as much as 60 centimeters, the Water Authority said.
Of course, politics, or at least politicians, could not be completely excluded from the meteorological news.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu drew comparison to U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday as he visited Israel police’s traffic control center at Beit Dagan where he met with senior police officials and heads of emergency services.
With an entourage of reporters and photographers along, Netanyahu said, “We waited many years for this rain, and I hope it remains for a blessing, and will not cause fatalities,” he said, calling on the public to act responsibly and heed police directives.
He thanked the public for its “patience,” saying they understand that after the traffic jams disappear, “we will remain with full water reservoirs which we need.”
“The system is working well,” he added.
Netanyahu said he has instructed his office to look into compensation payments for people suffering significant damage and financial loss from the storm.
The losses to the Israeli economy due to storm-related irregularities and shutdowns was estimated by The Manufacturers Association of Israel to be about $80 million so far.
Some 500 farms, mostly in the center of the country, have reported significant damage from the storm. Over 100 involved vegetable growers whose crops were ravaged by the strong winds, battering plants and tearing nylon shelters. Fortunately, most of the farmers are protected by an insurance plan.