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How a Rare Snowfall Hit Jerusalem, Middle East

An undated photo of a rare snowfall in Jerusalem.
An undated photo of a rare snowfall in Jerusalem. (Image credit: Jersusalem snow image via Shutterstock)

An unusual storm brought snow and chaos to the Middle East yesterday (Jan. 10).

The weather system dumped 4-6 inches (10-15 centimeters) of snow on Jerusalem Wednesday night (Jan. 9) and yesterday morning, according to Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist with the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. The same system was responsible for heavy rain and scattered flooding, before the rain turned to snow, Samenow told OurAmazingPlanet.

This storm system is responsible for at least eight deaths, and the United Nations reported that "millions of people inside Syria and 600,000 refugees outside the country need assistance," according to the Voice of America.

The storm system got its start from warm, moist air rising off the Mediterranean Sea, producing rain as it rose and moved eastward into the Middle East. It intensified as it clashed with the southwestern edge of a huge mass of cold air that extends from Turkey and Eastern Europe all the way to China. In fact, the same mass of cold air was responsible for an extreme cold snap in China earlier this week.

However, once the center of the low pressure system — which spins counterclockwise due to the rotation of the Earth — passed Israel, the northerly winds began to ferry cold air from the north down toward Jerusalem and the eastern Mediterranean. "As winds shifted out of the north, cold air wrapped into the region and allowed the precipitation to turn to snow," Samenow said.

The snowstorm was Jerusalem's worst in 20 years, according to Reuters, shutting down public transportation and closing public offices and schools. Samenow said significant snowstorms aren't unheard of in Israel, and happen about once every seven to eight years. The region gets a small amount of snow almost every year, he said.   

The Palestinian meteorological institute said that snow levels in Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Bethlehem areas had reached 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) and as much as 1 foot (30 cm) in Hebron, Reuters reported. As much as 3 feet (91 cm) of snow fell on Mount Hermon in northern Israel, according to the Inquisitr. Snow was reported in areas of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, Samenow noted.

The system now looks likely to move through Kazakhstan, Russian and China, where it will likely drop even more snow, Samenow said.

Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

Douglas Main
Douglas Main loves the weird and wonderful world of science, digging into amazing Planet Earth discoveries and wacky animal findings (from marsupials mating themselves to death to zombie worms to tear-drinking butterflies) for Live Science. Follow Doug on Google+.