Tropical Storm Expected to Slam Into Israel on Saturday

The actual path is hard to predict as the weather patterns vary due to climate change, but authorities are bracing for heavy rain and tropical-storm-speed strong winds

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Satellite footage of the Mediterranean, October 25, 2019
Satellite footage of the Mediterranean, October 25, 2019Credit: NASA-NOAA

An extremely unusual tropical cyclone over the Mediterranean Sea is heading for southern Israel and Egypt from Cyprus. The cyclone is predicted to arrive on Saturday, bringing tropical storm-force winds and heavy rainfall. Local showers and thunderstorms are expected to begin Friday afternoon and evening.

Israeli authorities are bracing for possible flooding as forecasters predict the Mediterranean hurricane or "medicane" could drop between 100 to 200 millimeters of rain.

Because of the vagaries of weather patterns and the relatively small size of the hurricane-like storm, relative to Atlantic hurricanes, forecasters cannot predict its trajectory with confidence. However, it poses a danger to which the people around the Mediterranean Sea basin are unaccustomed.

"In my opinion it's the first time a tropical storm with a structure like this" – an eye with powerful wind gusts – "will be reaching Israel," forecaster Yaniv Riz told Makor Rishon.

Depending on its path, much of Israel might barely notice it, while other places would get slammed, he added.

A new climate model published in 2018 predicted that the extremely rare Mediterranean Sea hurricane weather systems dubbed medicanes would become less frequent but more violent, becoming likelier to intensify to the level of Category 1 storms.

They are also expected to move more slowly, leading to higher local precipitation and exacerbating the risk of flooding. Other researchers suspect medicanes may actually become more frequent.

There is more of a consensus that they will move slowly, unloading unusual quantities of rain.

The Israel Electric Corporation has beefed up its emergency teams and customer service at the 103 hotline, and has emergency generators and heavy machinery on alert, Kikar Hashabat reports.

The Nature and Parks Authorities warned of potential flooding in the streams in eastern and southern Israel, and to absolutely avoid driving or walking into a flowing waterway.

This system spans a 300 mile width across the eastern Mediterranean Sea, MSN Weather reports

Since 1980, the surface of the Mediterranean Sea has warmed by one to two degrees Celsius on average.

Medicanes will strengthen in the future because as sea surface temperatures rise, the atmospheric environment will become more favorable for them to get stronger," Juan Jesus Gonzalez-Aleman of the University of Castilla-la Mancha told Haaretz, adding: "It's like the Mediterranean Sea will be a more tropical-like region."

So far these storms have happened once or twice a year on average – but usually hitting the western and central Mediterranean: Italy, Spain, Crete and the Greek islands. Not Israel, until now.

Mediterranean hurricanes and typhoons are very similar. Both are rapidly rotating systems of thunderstorms swirling around a low pressure-eye. Category 1 Atlantic hurricanes are defined as sustaining wind speeds of at least 119 kph (74 miles an hour) for at least one minute. Medicanes usually, if not always, max out at half that speed. That may change.