As Cold Snap Bites, Jerusalem, Safed and Even the Negev Prepare for Snow

Today will be even colder and stormier than yesterday, with snow, which fell mainly on Mount Hermon yesterday, spreading to hilly areas of the center and perhaps even the highest peaks of the northern Negev.

Jerusalem is expected to get a few centimeters of snow. However, it is currently considered more likely that it will melt immediately than stay on the ground.

The main victims of the cold snap will be Safed and Jerusalem, where temperatures are expected to reach no higher than 2 and 3 degrees Celsius, respectively. The south, however, will also experience an unusual chill.

Today's storms may also disrupt domestic air travel to Israel's two northernmost airports - in Rosh Pina and Haifa.

The rain and cold will continue tomorrow, and Saturday will be unseasonably cold as well.

Yesterday, the Water Authority published figures showing that January was a good month for the country's water sources. Thanks to heavy rain in the Galilee, for instance, the groundwater level, for the first time in years, is almost high enough for water to start flowing into Ein Afek again. That dried-up spring has become the symbol of the country's drought in recent years.

January's rains also produced the worst flooding ever recorded in the Negev's Nitzana area and added 105 million cubic meters of water to Lake Kinneret - the largest amount seen in the month of January since 2004.

Nevertheless, the authority warned, a one-month bonanza is not enough to make up for a deficit going back years, and all of Israel's water sources remain at dangerously low levels.

In Safed, municipal officials were busy yesterday preparing for the city's first snowfall in two years. "We've given orders as to which roads must be opened first, such as the road to Sieff Hospital," said Mayor Ilan Shohat. "We've also ordered all municipal vehicles to fill up with gas and have rented tractors that can move in the snow."

At 6 A.M. this morning, city officials will evaluate the situation and decide whether or not to open the schools. But Aryeh Gur-Aryeh, who heads the Safed municipality's emergency operations center, warned students "not to celebrate yet. It's very possible that conditions will enable classes to take place this morning."

Similar preparations were underway on the Golan Heights. At 5 A.M. this morning, the Golan Regional Council will send out patrols to determine whether the roads are safe for travel, and based on their report will decide whether or not to close schools for the day.

Sheffi Mor, the tourism director at Kibbutz Merom Golan, said he was hoping the snow would stay on the ground through the weekend as it would likely bring in a flood of visitors. He said the reservation books of local bed-and-breakfasts are already filling up, with some visitors even arriving yesterday to take in the first snowfall, which was expected last night.

But it is not only humans for whom preparations must be made: At the Kiryat Motzkin zoo, for instance, one orangutan curled himself up in a blanket to protect himself from the cold, while another buried himself in a nest of coconut palm branches that zookeepers had supplied for that purpose.