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After a few local showers yesterday, this weekend, Israel is expected to experience its first real winter weather of the season, with significant rainfall forecast for throughout the country. The weather may cause serious flooding in the areas affected by the Carmel Forest fire, since it now lacks vegetation that would normally absorb the rain.

Some local showers are expected along the coast this morning, but the rain will grow weaker as temperatures rise through the day and tomorrow. By the weekend, however, the weather will turn sharply. "We will see a significant stretch of wintery weather on Shabbat, lasting until Sunday and possibly even Monday," said Nachum Malik of the Meteo-Tech forecasting firm.

The weekend will open with rains on Friday in the north and center of the country. The rains will develop into rainstorms over Saturday, and snow may fall on Mount Hermon between Saturday and Sunday. "We're getting a weather swap," said Malik. "Up until now, the weather here was very warm this season, while in Europe it was very cold. Now the weather in Europe has become more stable, and some of the cold air is moving in our direction."

The heavy rains are expected to cause further damage to nature and homes affected by the Carmel Forest fire. The lack of vegetation and the thick ash lying on the ground in the area affected exacerbate the risk of flooding. Researchers from the erosion research facility at the Ministry of Agriculture and from the University of Haifa are expected to tour the area today to locate areas at particularly high risk.

"In a normal situation, natural vegetation serves as a barrier that absorbs some of the rainwater and channels the rest, lessening the quantity and impact of the rain hitting the ground," said Dr. Lea Wittenberg, of the University of Haifa's geography department. "The fire eradicated that, and instead, there's a layer of ash on the ground that seals the soil. This means that when the rain falls in quantities on this area, it will turn into a massive torrent sweeping downhill.

Such a flood puts communities on the lower reaches of the Carmel's streams at risk. Wittenberg said that because this situation can be anticipated, and heavy machinery will be at the ready to assist if necessary. "Normally, after a fire you would spread branches and leafs across the area of the blaze to soften the impact of the rain, but there's no time for that now," she added.

Temperatures began dropping yesterday across the country, in some places by as much as eight degrees Celsius, bringing temperatures to levels normal for December, after a very hot and dry autumn. In Jerusalem, for example, temperatures dropped from 23 degrees on Sunday to 15 degrees yesterday.

Yesterday also saw some local showers, with Ashdod leading the rainfall count with 17mm of precipitation, said Malik. The Golan Heights and the Galillee saw some 5mm of rain, the same level that fell on Haifa, where rain was desperately awaited through the days of the blaze.