Israel's climate is heating up at double the global average and could suffer heatwaves peaking at 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), but the government has no plans to deal with such extreme temperatures, Israel Meteorological Service director Nir Stav admitted.
This comes as Europe swelters under unprecedented heatwaves, with Britain forecast to face temperatures of up to 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday.
Haaretz has obtained the weather service’s official assessment of what it projects that the country will experience in the coming decades. The agency estimates the probability of the occurrence of heatwaves at 5 percent per year between 2030 and 2050. Every year beginning with the 2030, the country should be prepared for exceptionally high temperatures lasting seven to 10 days, surpassing the 50-degree mark in portions of the country, the meteorological service said.
“In Britain, the heatwave made the headlines after ‘changing the area code’ to temperatures of over 40 degrees – a temperature range that until recently seemed imaginary there. Here [in Israel], it’s nearly certain that there will be such a commotion when we ‘change area codes’ for temperatures over 50 degrees,” said Stav. “You don’t need to be a prophet to understand that it will happen in the coming years. It’s not an imaginary scenario.”
“Similar to the fact that the British aren’t prepared for heatwaves of 40 degrees and over, we are not prepared for heatwaves of 50 degrees and over. We aren’t actually really prepared even for the heatwaves that are routinely hitting us. For the most part, public agencies have no plans for a significant heatwave,” Stav noted.
The climate crisis is causing extreme weather patterns across the world, including heatwaves, floods, and droughts. As a result, Stav says, the chances are high that in the coming years we will exceed the highest temperatures ever recorded in Israel.
"If in the past, the chance of exceeding 50 degrees was once in 100 years, it's nearly certain that in the current climate, the probability is already once in 10 [years]," he said.
According to a report from the Geneva-based International Panel on Climate Change from August of last year, in the current climate, which is an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial age, extreme heatwaves that in the past occurred once in 10 years are now occurring at 2.8 times that rate.
In Israel, where the average temperature is expected to increase by another 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, and by 3 degrees within a century, the highest recorded temperature in the country occurred 80 years ago in a particularly extreme heatwave between June 20 and June 22, 1942 at Kibbutz Tirat-Zvi in the Beit She’an Valley, when highs surpassed 50 degrees for three straight days and reached a top mercury reading of 54 degrees Celsius (129 degrees F.).
The Israel Meteorological Service is forecasting that by mid-century, most of Israel’s cities will experience a considerable increase in the number of days with temperatures exceeding 34 degrees. Tropical nights – with temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), are also expected to jump from the average occurrence of 63 per year to 75 in 2050.
The weather service predicts that in the Jordan Valley and the Arava region, heatwaves will reach 46 degrees – and in extreme cases exceed 50 degrees, while daily lows could exceed 30 degrees (86 degrees Fahrenheit). In the Negev, daily low temperatures may not drop below 25 degrees – while daily highs could reach 40 to 45 degrees.
In the Jerusalem area and Israel’s central hills, the temperatures will exceed 36 and sometimes reach as high as 43 to 44 degrees Celsius (109 to 111 F.), and during such spells, nightly temperatures will not drop below 25 degrees, sometimes remaining as high as 30.
Along the coastal plains, highs could exceed 35 with afternoon humidity reaching 60 percent. At their highest, temperatures in the region could exceed 40 degrees. During such periods, Israel’s northern valleys would see temperatures of 44 degrees and in the most extreme circumstances readings exceeding 48 Celsius – and lows that at times will be no cooler than 29 Celsius (84 F.).
The weather service’s projections are dire, forecasting that the extreme heat will affect the entire country. Heatwaves currently hit the country an average four times a year, lasting generally four to five days with highs approaching an average 36 degrees (97 degrees F.). Their frequency is expected to increase to an average of five times per year due to climate change and to six times a year in 2050. They will last an average of six days each rather than four and involve high temperatures of 42 to 48 degrees on average.
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In the Jerusalem area, there are currently between two and four heatwaves a year, typically lasting about four days with temperatures over 32 degrees (90 F.). It is projected that in 2050, there will be six to seven such hot spells per year in the area lasting about six days, and with temperatures exceeding 34 degrees and 39 degrees at their hottest.
Along Israel’s Mediterranean coast, the frequency of heatwaves is expected to rise from one or two a year to four in 2050. They currently last an average of four days each, reaching 35 degrees. In 2050, they are expected to last five days with temperatures of 36 degrees – about 40 degrees at their hottest. In the Negev the four days of heat waves annually is projected to rise to seven in 2050, reaching 42 degrees.