Experts Point to Climate Change as Powerful Rains Batter Israel

Local authorities report flash flooding across central towns, with some damage to the Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv

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Flooding in the Israeli city of Herzliya, 26 November 2020.
Flooding in the Israeli city of Herzliya, 26 November 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Nearly 200 Israelis had to be rescued due to heavy rain and thunderstorms that ravaged Israel from the north to the south on Thursday, with experts warning that such severe rainstorms may become routine due to climate change.

The rain and thunderstorms are expected to continue throughout the day and into the weekend.

The flooded train station in Herzliya.Credit: Israel Railways
The flooded Yarkon stream in Tel Aviv.

Around 40 children from four preschools across the central city of Hod Hasharon were evacuated, as were dozens residents of other towns around the Tel Aviv area. Traffic was disrupted around the country due to flooded roads.

The military reported flooding at its headquarters in Tel Aviv, damaging digital communication systems as well as buildings. 

Local authorities reported flash flooding in several central Israeli cities, where firefighter and search and rescue teams were dispatched in response to nearly 140 calls for help. Firefighters worked around the country to clear floodwater from elevators, parking garages and private residences. 

In the northern Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya, the 56-year-old driver of an all-terrain vehicle was injured when the vehicle fell into a hole that opened up in a sidewalk at the city's marina. He was taken to the hospital with light injuries. The Herzliya train station was also closed due to flooding.  

Damage caused by rains to a road in the southern city of Ashkelon.Credit: Ashkelon News

In Holon, just south of Tel Aviv, part of a ceiling in the stairwell of an apartment building collapsed. Residents who had been trapped in their apartments by the damage were rescued.

A number of stranded motorists in the Tel Aviv area and elsewhere had to be rescued due to flooding, including a 37-year-old man in Moshav Beit Hashikma near Ashkelon, who was taken to the hospital suffering from mild hypothermia.

The Israel Electric Company reported 2,097 lightning strikes across Israel between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, a 1,664 percent increase in such strikes over the daily average for November.

The water level of the Sea of Galilee rose by 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) since Wednesday, following 30 milliliters of rainfall in the Galilee region.

The rainy weather is expected to continue into the weekend, with the prediction for low temperatures and cloudy skies across the north and center of the country.

The Hayarkon River in Tel Aviv pictured overflowing this morning, 26 November 2020.

Israel unprepared for wave of storms

Experts fear an increase in the number of short, powerful bursts of rain that have ravaged Israel in recent weeks, attributing their frequency to climate change.

If these forecasts become a reality, the severity of the rain will be felt most in urban areas, since they create five times as much floodwater runoff as in natural areas of a comparable size, according to scientists.

However, the government has yet to develop a coherent policy for managing river watersheds to address both built-up areas and open spaces.

Stormy skies above the Israeli city of Rishon Letzion, 25 November 2020.Credit: Ilan Ayasag

In a policy paper produced by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense this week, the NGO asserted that the Agriculture Ministry was supposed to advance a bill to establish a national authority for managing watersheds and drainage basins.

The bill remains stalled in the legislative process.

Additionally, the Interior Ministry’s planning authority is expected to submit a policy paper for managing urban drainage basins that would make property developers responsible for managing half the volume of the runoff created in areas of up to 5 dunams (1.25 acres) and 75 percent of the volume in areas over 5 dunams.

Current regulations only require runoff management at a relatively late stage in the planning process.

Yaniv Kubovich contributed to this report.

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