For the first time in over 100 years, several inches of snow have fallen in Cairo and the Sinai desert in Egypt, forcing the closure of ports on the Red Sea coast. In an area averaging less than an inch of rain each year, such snowfall is a very rare phenomenon.
Severe storm "Alexa" is responsible for the unusual weather; she blew in from Turkey last Wednesday to drape the West Bank and Israel under a blanket of white, causing total chaos and prompting Israeli authorities to lift the Jewish Sabbath ban on public in order to cope with the crisis.
Jerusalem bore the brunt of Alexa’s wrath: 20 inches (50cm) of snow fell on Friday 13th December, leaving around 35,000 homes without electricity and many people cut off by snow-laden streets. Snow has not been seen in the holy city since 1953, so emergency services were ill-equipped to deal with the crisis and the Israeli army had to be drafted in to give assistance. Some roads in and out of the city were finally opened today (Sunday) after the city had been cut off for three days.
The harsh weather has hit hard across The Middle East, exacerbating an already critical humanitarian crisis in Syria and forcing Israel to lift restrictions and allow emergency aid into Gaza. In Syria’s contested northern city of Aleppo, the snow forced a temporary truce between soldiers and rebels.
The storm has made an already difficult existence much more challenging for some: in Lebanon, many thousands of Syrian refugees are having to cope with the freezing conditions sheltered only by flimsy plastic tents.
Parts of the Gaza strip have been declared a disaster zone by United Nations officials, as torrential rains generated by Alexa have also created a serious flooding issue. More than 5,000 people in the Gaza Strip have been evacuated from their homes and rescuers have had to use boats to reach trapped residents.
By Saturday, Alexa’s ire had calmed, leaving a bewildered Middle East coping with almost unprecedented environmental chaos, and the rest of the world wondering where the weird weather will strike next.
Unknown Country strives to keep you informed of significant weather events world-wide; check out Climate Watch for regular forecasts from Whitley Strieber, whose predictions have always proven to be uncannily accurate.