Jerusalem Closed Off as Blizzard Hits Israel; 17,000 Homes Without Power

Teenager killed, two others injured in road accident near Jerusalem; school canceled in capital; city of Safed cut off.

Olivier Fitoussi

A major storm that reached Israel from Eastern Europe late Tuesday cut power to approximately 17,000 homes across the country on Wednesday as fierce winds and rain lashed the country, causing one fatality and a number of injuries.  

All roads to Jerusalem were blocked off by noon on Wednesday and snowfall in the capital was expected to accumulate to 20–30 cm, with snow falling at lower altitudes as well. Jerusalem police closed the entrances to the city at 10:00 A.M. due to the weather, though all roads within Jerusalem were open as of  late Wednesday afternoon.  The Jerusalem municipality said it will employ 150 snowplows and other heavy equipment in effort to keep main roads clear. 

Elsewhere in Israel, nearly four inches of snow fell in Safed in two hours Wednesday morning, and fifty centimers of snow have already accumulated atop Mount Hermon this week.

By Wednesday evening, approximately 17,000 homes across the country were without electricity because of the storm, with the central cities of Netanya, Ra'anana, Petah Tikvah, Rehovot and Rishon LeTzion most affected, as well as Ashdod and Ashkelon.  

The treacherous weather resulted in a number of injuries on Wednsday. A thirteen-year-old boy was killed and two others injured in road accident near Tzur Hadassah near Jerusalem. In Ashdod, a seventeen year old was moderately injured after being struck by a steel pole that had been dislodged by fierce winds, and three people were lightly injured by a falling billboard in Holon. Luckily, no injuries were reportred after a 50-ton billboard collapsed Wednesday morning in Netanya due to severe winds. 

In addition, the Israeli military deployed hundreds of soldiers and armored troop carriers in Safed, Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israel's main airport suffered damage during the storm. At around 3 P.M., lightning struck Ben-Gurion International Airport’s air traffic control tower, causing damage to a number of systems. According to airport authorities, no airplanes are in danger. The control tower switched to a backup system, and increased the time between takeoffs and landings. As a result, delays of up to an hour are expected for incoming and outgoing flights. A technical team is currently fixing the damaged systems. Airport authorities emphasized that “there is no danger or security problems with takeoffs and landings.”  

Route 6 between Ben Shemen and Nahshonim near Modi'in was closed intermittently in both directions due to ice buildup.

Flooding was also reportred in Ein Gedi area of the Dead Sea.

In Safed, one of the worst-hit localities, roads into the city were closed entirely on Tuesday night. Safed Mayor Ilan Shochat advised residents to prepare themselves for the possibility of staying put - perhaps without electricity - for up to three days. 

Schools, universities closed

Schools in Safed and the northern Merom HaGalil Regional Council will remain closed on Thursday, while a decision will be taken at 6 A.M. by Jerusalem authorities whether schools in the capital will remain closed. The medical school in Safed announced Monday there would be no classes on Wednesday and Thursday, or clinical studies at Rebecca Sieff Hospital.

The Hebrew University announced that classes and work are canceled today and tomorrow at its Jerusalem campuses. Tomorrow the university will announce whether normal activity will be resumed on Friday. Classes at the Rehovot campus will be held as usual. Students and employees will be able to keep updated by text messages, the university said, as well as emails and via Facebook.

Schools will be closed today in Jerusalem, Givat Ze’ev, Mevasseret Zion and mountain communities in the Mateh Binyamin region. Some schools in the north will also be closed. For further updates, call the Education Ministry at 02-5602710.

As a result of lessons learned from the huge snowstorm of December 2013, one of the first steps police took was to close the main roads leading to the capital – routes 1 and 443 – a considerable distance from the city. During the last snowstorm, thousands of people were stranded in their cars because police delayed closing the roads. Drivers are urged to check radio reports for news regarding road closures.

Jerusalem's preparations for the storm this year were extensive.

Stormy conditions to continue

Contrary to previous forecasts, the Meteorological Service said on Monday that the snow may continue intermittently throughout Thursday and possibly into Friday. Temperatures will be very low for the rest of the week, with the latest forecasts saying the bitter cold will continue until the beginning of next week.

The winds will reach as much as 100 kilometers an hour, and flooding is predicted in Judean Desert wadis. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has warned hikers to stay out of the area.

Sleet will continue over the weekend. Light to moderate snow with possible accumulation is expected Friday, with rain mainly in the center and the south. The snow will begin to melt on Saturday, and by Saturday night rain will spread to the north, continuing on Sunday.

The letter 'Alef' goes missing from the Haaretz logo on the newspaper's headquarters following heavy wind, Jan. 7, 2015. Photo by Haaretz

Lifeguard station, Tel Aviv, Jan. 7, 2015. Photo by Ofer Vaknin

Wind surfer, Tel Aviv, Jan. 7, 2015. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum