Three Days of Rain Rock Israel's Center and North, Cause Deadly Accidents

Two people killed amid highs of 10 inches of rain in what a meteorologist calls ‘an unusual system’ ■ Major highway shuts down ■ Dozens evacuated in central Israel due to flooding

Flooding in Ahiezer, near Ben-Gurion International Airport, December 7, 2018.
Ilan Assayag אילן אסייג

Heavy rains doused the north and center of the country from Thursday to Saturday, causing flooding and killing two in a weather pattern a meteorologist called “extreme and rare.”

“This is an unusual system,” said Meteo-Tech’s Nahum Malik, noting that in Rehovot southeast of Tel Aviv, 200 millimeters (7.9 inches) of rain had fallen, something he said has happened before but very rarely. Rain is likely in the coming week, though less of it. 

The center of the country saw 200 to 250 millimeters (9.8 inches) but the north saw less – 60 to 70 millimeters – not enough to fill the northern streams that lead to Lake Kinneret and raise its level.

“This is nice but not enough,” Malik said. “If the amounts that fell in central Israel had fallen in the north, it would have been better for Lake Kinneret, so it hasn’t risen by much.” 

Flooding on Route 40, southern Israel, December 7, 2018.
Israel Police Spokesperson

The level of the lake – a key source of water – rose only 4 centimeters, still 162 centimeters from the upper red line, the point where the lake could overflow if its dam is not opened.  

Malik said the wintry weather was caused by cold air from Eastern Europe passing over the Mediterranean, which is still relatively warm. “This leads to very well-developed clouds that bring large quantities of rain,” he said.

At the Atarot industrial zone in north Jerusalem, a 50-year-old worker was killed Friday when a factory wall collapsed on him due to the heavy rain. Rescue workers needed hours to remove the body, and the factory owner has been detained for questioning.

Collapsed wall due to weather, Jerusalem, December 7, 2018.
Israel Fire and Rescue Service

Near the southern city of Kiryat Gat, a 30-year-old woman and her 1-year-old were killed when the vehicle they were in veered off course and crashed. The flow rate in the Ayalon Stream, which leads from the Judean Hills to the Mediterranean Sea via Tel Aviv, reached 250 cubic meters per second, the highest rate since January 2012 and the third highest since 1992.

Waves on the Mediterranean reached 3 to 6 meters due to strong winds of 30 to 60 kilometers (37 miles) per hour. The storm also brought the season’s first snowfall to Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights.

More than 80 residents of Moshav Ahi’ezer, southwest of Ben-Gurion International Airport, were evacuated from their homes. Some said they had to wait several hours trapped at home before the rescue services reached them.

Some houses and cars were flooded and damaged, but no casualties were reported. Electricity and gas supplies to Ahi’ezer were cut.

Rescue of family in Kfar Chabad, December 7, 2018.
Israel Fire and Rescue Service

The head of the local fire and rescue service said Ahi’ezer was the hardest hit of any community in Israel over the weekend; residents had to be evacuated using boats and tractors.

“I could see the stream of water reach the house,” said one of the residents who was evacuated to a local community center. “We had no time to move anything, and the water was as high as the couch and the bed,” said the woman, who gave her name as Einav.

The head of the Sdot Dan Regional Council head, David Ifrah, said floods occurred every winter, but they have seldom been this grave. Several roads were flooded by the rainwater, and some drivers had to be rescued.

Ayalon Highway, Tel Aviv, December 7, 2018.

Because of the flooding the Ayalon Highway was closed for five hours from the Glilot Interchange, just north of Tel Aviv, to the Ganot Interchange, south of the city. Route 40, which connects central Israel to southern towns, was closed near Rehovot.

For the first time this winter, snow fell on Mount Hermon. About 5 centimeters (2 inches) of snow stuck on the upper slopes, while snow mixed with rain fell on the lower slopes. On Thursday, 50 children and two teachers were evacuated by dinghy after a kindergarten complex flooded in Rehovot.

Flash floods have been likely in the Judean Desert and Jordan Valley, with haze in the south. The rains tapered off Saturday but will continue on and off in the north and center. Temperatures will be lower than normal for this time of year.

Sunday will be partly cloudy and temperatures will inch up to seasonal averages. Scattered showers are still likely Sunday morning in the north and along the coast.

Monday will be partly cloudy, with scattered showers and stronger winds in the north. Tuesday will be nice, but Wednesday will see showers in the north and center, and light rain in the Negev.

Snow on Mount Hermon, December 7, 2018.
Avi Bezalel