ALEY/SIDON/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Storm “Windy” hammered Lebanon Friday as heavy snow blocked vital roads across the country, isolating residents. The fierce weather caused widespread power outages, while plummeting temperatures and heating oil shortages forced citizens in some areas to evacuate their homes.
The entire eastern basin of the Mediterranean remained at the mercy of the storm, and residents across Lebanon were stranded due to the harsh weather conditions and freezing temperatures.
Schools and nurseries were shut and will remain closed Saturday.
“The storm will begin to wane Friday night and will subside across most of the country Saturday morning,” said a source from the Meteorological Department at the Rafik Hariri International Airport. “The storm will not recede in southern Lebanon until the afternoon.”
The department forecast partly cloudy weather for Saturday, with intermittent showers and snowfall down to 600 meters, especially in the south. Experts added that temperatures will remain low, warning of ice formation on mountain roads.
Saturday’s temperatures are forecast to range from 4 to 13 degrees Celsius along the coast, minus 3 to 4 in the mountains, minus 9 to minus 3 in the Cedars, and minus 3 to 8 in the Bekaa Valley.
After becoming impassable Thursday, the vital route of Dahr al-Baidar, which links Beirut to Damascus, was reopened Friday, but quickly became blocked again due to the storm.
The Internal Security Forces announced that local police helped rescue several vehicles stranded in the snow. Earlier in the day, Civil Defense teams rescued 10 pedestrians after snow had trapped them on the highway.
The route remained blocked Friday night, according to the ISF.
The Mount Lebanon town of Aley was completely snowed in as the weather intensified around noon. Some of the town’s areas were covered by 40 centimeters of snow. Aley also witnessed widespread power outages.
The storm continued with renewed strength in the afternoon, and freezing temperatures caused layers of ice to form on roads and buildings in the eastern region of Baalbek, the National News Agency reported, while the Chouf experienced power outages as icy conditions damaged crops and power lines.
Coastal areas such as Sibline, Barja and Wardanieh received their share of the rough winter weather as well, and roads across Chehim-Daraya were blocked with snow.
In the southern border town of Shebaa, a shortage of heating oil forced many residents to evacuate their homes.
Pregnant women and the sick were transported and given treatment by the Red Cross, and food supplies were distributed to Lebanese and Syrian families in the area.
The Shebaa-Hasbaya road was kept open for residents, but the Kfar Shuba-Shebaa and Hebbarieh-Shebaa roads were blocked by up to a meter of snow.
The snow also isolated UNIFIL’s Indian battalion posts along the Blue Line.
Residents of Marjayoun stocked up on bread, heating oil and other supplies, as “Windy” gained momentum during the day. Cars skidded out of control on icy roads, and fog reduced visibility. Some of the makeshift camps inhabited by Syrian refugees in the area were almost completely destroyed.
In the northern district of Akkar, the Nahr al-Kabir River and Nahr Ostwan River burst their banks, and water flooded into adjacent agricultural fields.
The regional town of Jroud Qaytaah also witnessed a shortage of heating oil and residents struggled to stay warm.
In Batroun, snow reportedly fell as low as 250 meters, and above 700 meters the roads were completely blocked, forcing residents to stay in their homes. Crews attempted to repair downed power lines in the Qadisha Valley throughout the day, despite the obstacle posed by the storm’s high winds.
Civil Defense chief Raymond Khattar said that rescue workers managed to save the life of a motorist, after a mudslide caused his pickup truck to plunge into a quarry in Antelias, north of Beirut.
Sunday will see the return of clear weather and a marked rise in temperatures, but the Meteorological Department warned that icy roads will persist particularly during the morning hours and again in the evening. Sunday’s temperatures are forecast to range from 5 to 14 degrees along the coast, minus 2 to 6 in the mountains, minus 7 to minus 1 in the Cedars, and minus 1 to 10 in the Bekaa.
“Windy” is the third storm to have hit Lebanon since the start of the new year, following closely on the heels of storm “Yohan,” which brought heavy rains and strong winds, and caused significant damage to coastal areas. In January the country was hit by storm “Zina.”
“The altitudes at which snow fell are similar to that of ‘Zina,’” explained a meteorological source. “But Zina lasted longer.”
“Windy” has contributed to a much-needed increase in precipitation levels, following last year’s prolonged drought.
“Since September, 610 milliliters of precipitation has fallen in Ras Beirut – [just] 172 milliliters was recorded over the same period last year,” said Mona Chahine, director of the Nicolas Chahine Weather Station. “We have now easily surpassed the average of 560 milliliters,” she added.
The effects of the storm have been felt across the region. Snow fell in parts of the West Bank, Jordan and Syria as the cold front swept through. It led to the closure of all the roads leading in and out of Jerusalem.
The Jordanian capital of Amman was brought to a standstill by the snow, while in Gaza heavy rains have been forecast for the rest of the week. In Egypt, strong winds and heavy rain shut the Mediterranean ports of Al-Arish and Damietta.
The storm has been hardest for those with limited or inadequate shelter, and contributed to the hardships of Syrians refugees in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp.
A number of tents were damaged or collapsed, and streets were flooded with muddy water. Children could be seen walking through the puddles to clear snow from atop tents.