The Climate Crisis Has Not Skipped Israel: 2021 Fourth-hottest Year on Record

The Meteorological Service recorded heat waves in almost every part of the past year, and found that the number of days with rainfall dropped – hurting Israel’s water reserves significantly

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Pool goers overlook a fire in the Jerusalem hills last August
Pool goers overlook a fire in the Jerusalem hills last AugustCredit: Emil Salman
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The year 2021 was the fourth-hottest year in Israel since temperatures began being recorded in the 1950s. In addition, the past decade, from 2011-2021, is the hottest decade on record. This and more is included in official data published by the Meteorological Service to summarize 2021, put together by Dr. Amos Porat, head of climate services.

This year’s heat is only a taste of the climate changes in store for Israel over the coming decades, said Nir Stav, the director of the Meteorological Service.

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Seven months in the past year were warmer than average, some significantly and unusually so. These include January, May, and November.

Four months were close to average and one month, June, was cooler than the average for 1995-2009. Among others, April saw a dry heat wave with temperatures reaching 40 to 42 degrees Celsius along the coast, in the lowlands, the Negev, and the valleys – and some gauging stations saw record temperatures for the month. May was an “abnormally warm” month, with only a handful of the past 70 years seeing a hotter fifth month.

According to the report, August also saw a “prolonged and abnormal heat wave” with temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius in the Negev and northern valleys, and 43 to 46 degrees in the Jordan Valley and the Arava. The service notes that “such a week-long stretch is abnormal for the summer months and in some parts of the country is unprecedented.”

Another unusual feature was the dryness along the coast during the heat wave, contrary to the prevalent high humidity.

November was “significantly warmer” than average, starting with days of 33 to 35 degrees along the coast, the lowlands, and the Negev. But most unusual was a hot spell at the end of the month, culminating on November 30 with 33 degree weather in these areas and 29 degrees in Jerusalem. August and November of last year were the fourth-hottest months since measurements began.

Total rainfall last year was similar to the average of the past three decades – but the number of rainy days was small, with most of the rain falling in a limited number of bursts. January saw a nearly three-week dry spell, the likes of which has only been seen once in the past.

When the same amount of rain falls in shorter bursts, more of it is lost rather than absorbed into the groundwater, and there is more flooding and property damage, explained Prof. Ophira Ayalon of Haifa University and the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research Institute at the Technion. Ayalon, who headed the knowledge center for climate change preparation, added that the heat waves, extreme dryness and warm months have contributed to accelerated evaporation of water from surface sources, thus worsening the water situation in Israel.

Data from the climate administration at the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Meteorological Service and modeling by the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Institute show a grim picture: Israel is looking at an increase of four degrees on average by the end of the century, a 10 to 20 percent decrease in precipitation, an increase in extreme weather events such as heat waves, flooding, harsh rains, and a 4 mm/year average rise in sea level.

According to Stav, the past year was like a “tasting menu” of the new climate features: Fewer days of rain, but very high daily rainfall, heat waves nearly throughout the year – spring, summer, and fall – and alongside these, snowfall in Jerusalem.

Israel is particularly vulnerable to global warming. Where the world has warmed by 1.5 degrees since 1850, Israel has warmed by 1.1 degrees since 1950 alone.

Former MK Dov Khenin, incoming chairman of President Isaac Herzog’s climate forum, said that 2021 had been a continuation of a dangerous trend. He cited a study published this year, which reaffirmed resoundingly that global warming is real and stems from human activity, particularly from burning petrol, coal, and gas.

The UN panel of climatologists determined that the coming decade is humanity’s final chance to avert the worst damage of the climate crisis and prevent global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius – a goal which world leaders failed to reach at last year’s Glasgow climate summit.

Global warming of 1.5 degrees above current levels is expected to cause lethal heat waves, water shortages, crop failures and ecosystem collapse. All these may lead to economic collapse, tens of millions of refugees and military tensions.

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