Israel’s arid southern region was revived as half its annual rainfall fell in just a few hours overnight on Wednesday. This sudden drenching is a last minute blessing, helping the desert bloom.
Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel, was hit by a sudden end-of-season storm, bringing massive amounts of rain and hail that shut down the airport and stranded travellers. More than half of its annual average of 1.18 inches fell in just a few hours overnight, flooding many roads. The rain was accompanied by thunder and high winds, and officials were forced to close the airport due to flooded runways and poor visibility. Coin-sized hail, an unusual phenomenon, pelted many areas in southern Israel.
Seasonal rain in Israel is specified in the Bible as a sign of God’s favor, affecting Israel’s relationship with the other nations.
Hashem will open unto thee His good treasure the heaven to give the rain of thy land in its season, and to bless all the work of thy hand; and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow. Deuteronomy 28:12
This winter, the first rain fell in late October, one week after Jews began praying for rain during the holiday of Sukkot. The seasonal request for rain is inserted into the thrice-daily benedictions called the shmona esrei (eighteen). Jews will stop praying for rain at the beginning of Passover on April 10, and begin praying for dew. Though Passover is still an auspicious time to pray for rain, the Talmudic sages ruled that Israel should pray for the pilgrimage festival to be dry to increase the joy of the holiday.
Over 130 high-school students and hikers were stranded by a flash flood that cut off the parking area from the main road. Camping out in tents in the mountains overlooking the city, they were awakened in the middle of the night by a hail-storm. Teachers and guides led them to higher ground, where they waited for the buses to arrive. The buses and civilian four-wheel drive vehicles were unable to navigate the flooded roads, and rescue teams were called in.
Flash floods are a mixed blessing, with the ability to turn an arid region into a blooming garden almost overnight, but they can also bring disaster. The clay soil does not absorb water well, and massive walls of water can come thundering down suddenly on hikers miles from where the rain actually fell. In 2007, four hikers died while rappelling in a gorge near the Dead Sea.
The extreme weather is expected to continue for the next several days all over Israel, clearing up before the Sabbath. March is typically the wettest month of the year, so more rain can be expected.