Monday, February 29, 2016

El Niño

It's not unusual to have bright sun and even a heatwave in an Israeli February. True, it's also a season for rain storms, sometimes even the odd snow flurry in the higher altitude regions.

This year though the rains were a little different, both in quantity and in pattern.

The north of Israel, home of Israel's only significant freshwater lake, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), was unusually dry this winter rainy season. True, with Israel's state of the art desalination technology the country no longer relies on pumping water from the Sea of Galilee as it once did, but the lake is still important both ecologically and because while desalination makes sense for Israel's densely populated coastal region, the Kinneret is still the prime source of water for the inland north-east.

There is now talk of building a desalination plant in northern Israel due to the severity of the drought up north and the need to replenish streams and aquifers in danger of running dry due to the paucity of the rainy season in this usually water rich region of Israel.

Furthermore Israel is committed to supplying water to the neighbouring Kingdom of Jordan, a further drain on Israeli water resources. Jordan has been afflicted even more severely by the drought and it struggling to provide water for a population swelled by well over a million refugees from neighbouring Syria and Iraq, and even as far afield as Libya. Israeli water is critical to the kingdom's water supply, and so must be factored in to Israel's water calculations.

Meanwhile Israel's arid desert south received copious precipitation this winter (at least by desert standards), with several major rain events and massive flash flooding. Southern Israel's Negev and Arava regions have been experiencing years of drought so severe that even the hardy desert acacia trees have begun to wither and die, and with them the bountiful wildlife that relies on them for sustenance. Things had become so bad that in some recent winters National Parks Authority rangers and conservationists had been artificially watering seasonal stream beds in emergency measures to save the lives of local animals facing starvation and drought.

Israel's south-central coasts all got clobbered with massive rainstorms dropping a month's worth of rain in the space of a few hours. Flooding ensued, with even well developed infrastructure unable to cope with the extreme deluge.

And now it's late February and both this month and January have been if anything drier than usual, it feels as though spring is already here. Rain or shine, this is peak flower season for Israel, but the question is how the lack of late winter rain will effect the blossoms still waiting to bloom later in the spring, and more importantly the crops yet to ripen. El Niño in the Middle East.