Israel Basks in Longest Winter Heat Wave in Almost 40 Years

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The heat wave that has hit the entire country will reach its peak Monday, with temperatures up to 30 degrees Celsius expected in some areas.

Although this falls short of a record high for the season, meteorologists say this has been the longest warm period in February in 38 years.

Temperatures are expected to reach 29 degrees Celsius in Tel Aviv on Monday, and 27 degrees in Jerusalem, while Eilat will see temperatures of up to 30 degrees. The heat will be alleviated somewhat on Tuesday, with temperatures across the country dropping by at least two to three degrees.

Hebrew University climatologist Daniel Rosenfeld said there was a clear link between the recent cold snap in Europe and the warm weather in the east of the Mediterranean.

He said that when a cold front in the North Pole area headed south toward Western Europe, the void was filled with warm air coming from deserts in the south. The warm front here is expected to head toward Turkey and the Caspian Sea, and then go further north.

Rosenfeld said some experts think the exceptionally warm spells this winter could also be linked to the El Nino climate pattern, which is characterized by high water temperatures in parts of the Pacific ocean near the equator.

"We've already had warm Februaries that ended with very cold and rainy days, so the winter is far from over," said Rosenfeld.

There is no indication when the next rainy spell will arrive.

The extreme swings between warm and cold temperatures this winter have already produced marked changes in the blossoming of wildflowers.

Ori Fragman-Sapir, director of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, and Yuval Sapir, director of Tel Aviv University's Botanical Gardens, said that previous heat waves followed by prolonged rains results in the early sprouting and blooming of many wildflowers.

Blooming early

"We have seen plants like the lupine and the tulip blooming weeks too early," Fragman-Sapir said. He also noted the early blooming of chrysanthemums and poppies, but said he doesn't expect the heat wave to do too much damage to wild plants, since last week's rain has left the ground moist.

"If the heat goes on, though, without further meaningful rains, this could harm species at a critical developmental stage, and then there will be less fruits and seeds," said Fragman-Sapir.

On the other hand, he added, a warm winter could encourage desert flora and other plants better suited to dry weather.

Reptile researchers, meanwhile, said there were no changes in the behavior of hibernating reptiles like snakes.

Amos Bouskila, who teaches life sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said there's a good chance that smaller reptiles, like lizards, will be more sensitive to the warming weather and might become active earlier this year.

He said it was difficult to pinpoint changes in reptile behavior since little research is done on reptiles in the winter, when they are usually inactive.