Cold and Stormy Weekend Lies Ahead, as Haze Makes Way for 'Proper Winter'

Heavy rain, thunderstorms, hail and snow in the north will make for a particularly cold and stormy weekend, as a severe weather system moves into the region from Europe.

"Now we're going to have a proper winter," said Nahum Malik of the Meteo-tech meteorological service.

Snow started falling on Mount Hermon yesterday and may spread south to the Golan and northern region, Malik said.

Yesterday's haze, driven to Israel by sandstorms in Egypt and Sinai yesterday, disrupted domestic and international aviation and led to an increase in complaints of breathing problems. The national emergency and medical service Magen David Adom reported a 30 percent increase in complaints of chest pains and shortage of breath.

MDA urged pregnant women and elderly people suffering from respiratory problems to shut their windows and stay at home until the rain washes away the dust.

Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv closed down at about 2 P.M. due to poor visibility, forcing Israir and Arkia to divert flights to Ben-Gurion International Airport, leaving passengers stranded.

Three El Al flights and one Austrian Airlines flight on their way to Israel were forced to land in Larnaca, Cyprus, after the airport increased intervals between landings. The inbound planes circled in the air until they ran out of fuel and finally landed in Cyprus.

Yesterday's weekend snow forecasts triggered a spate of reservations at Galilee and Golan hotels and resort centers.

"As soon as the forecasts were aired the phones started ringing," said Meir Levy, chairman of the Upper Galilee Tourism Forum and manager of the Gonen recreation site. "I hope many people come to the Galilee for the weekend to see the streams flowing and the snow in the Golan."

Eran Glik, Kibbutz Merom Golan's tourism manager, said he hopes the weekend snow will bring a influx of visitors to the Golan after what has been a most disappointing winter.

Dr. Kalin Shapira, deputy director of the Rebecca Sieff Hospital, Safed, said the hospital was preparing for the storm.

"We're preparing sports utility vehicles in case access roads in the area are blocked, to be able to evacuate patients and reach those who cannot come to us," he said.

"The hospital's emergency room has been prepared throughout the winter to admit patients with frostbite and hypothermia," Shapira said.

Toddlers, children and elderly people are more susceptible to low temperature and are advised to take extra precautions that they are warm enough indoors and dressed appropriately outside.

Even if the rain forecast proves accurate, farmers say it will not make up for the huge water shortage.

"The showers will improve things, but the situation will remain difficult for farmers and the rain will not fill the Kinneret," said Ahikam Barlevy, CEO of the Galilee Development Corporation and the Hatzbani-Dan company. "The situation is far from good. We hope it will rain a lot now and throughout March, to improve the water supplies a little."