Russian Weather in the Middle East

From Times Wire Services

The Middle East shivered Thursday in the wake of a cold blast from Russia that dumped snow down the eastern Mediterranean and broke weather records.

Sixteen inches of snow--the heaviest snowfall in 42 years--left Jerusalem paralyzed. Much of Jordan was carpeted, and cities such as Beirut and Nicosia got a rare sight of snow.

Floods and snowdrifts cut off towns and villages from eastern Turkey to Israel. Storms rolled across Egypt's Western Desert, and high seas closed Alexandria harbor.

Despite the havoc, the cold front was welcome, since--together with one of the wettest Decembers this century--it eased drought fears that have beset the region for two years.

Blizzards and freezing temperatures gripped Jordan. The capital, Amman, was at a standstill, with few people venturing outdoors.

King Hussein called out civil defense teams to clear drifts as deep as 32 inches close to the ancient city of Petra.

Water six feet deep forced residents to evacuate the Ezra district of Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers tossed snowballs at each other. The army used bulldozers and armored personnel carriers to clear roads. The sound of trees snapping in the cold echoed round the Holy City like gunshots.

Weather forecasters reported snow in some areas of Israel for the first time on record, including the mountains north of the Red Sea resort town of Eilat.

Heavy snow blanketed the Negev Desert towns of Dimona, Mitzpeh Ramon and Beersheba. Snowflakes were seen in Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on Earth.

Floods were reported blocking the main Ayalon Expressway in Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean, and the outlying Yarkon River overflowed onto commercial avenues.

The good news across the Middle East was that empty reservoirs were filling fast. In Jordan, which has recorded its highest rainfall for 40 years, officials reported reservoirs approaching 50% capacity.

Israel's national water carrier Mekorot announced Wednesday that it is pumping water into underground reservoirs for the first time in decades.

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