Monday, January 18, 2010

"Mashiv haruach umorid hagashem" –
"Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall"

Not until you’ve been through a winter rain storm in Israel can you really comprehend the meaning of those words – which is something I don’t say lightly.

I grew up in North Dakota -- a land of extreme weather if there ever was one. Yes, there’s wind there, and of course rain -- not to mention snow. But never rain with the intensity of what you see in the Negev, when it really gets going.

In the early evening last night a very gentle rain started. It was lovely – we need rain so much, and it had been so hot for January, that I loved sitting in my outside room and just listening to it. After a while, it was too cold. so I came inside – and not a moment too soon, either. The storm – make that STORM – started. Wind, pounding rain, an amazing display of lightning and thunder. By counting seconds between the thunder and the flash of lightening, I could tell the actual storm was still quite far away, but even on that front edge, it was impressive.

What’s interesting about rain in the Negev is how it pounds straight down, with an amazing intensity. The rain squalls don’t usually last very long – minutes, maybe, of serious intensity – but the noise on the roof is incredible. I finally decided to go to bed – mostly because there’s a big window in the bedroom, and I knew I’d be able to look out and watch the storm – hey, in Beersheba, the sun shines 360 days a year. When we get something as interesting as a storm with thunder and lightning, I don’t want to miss a minute of it. I want to enjoy it, save it up, to remember it sometime next July, when we’ve had nothing but unmitigated sunshine for about five months already, and the idea of a rainstorm sounds seriously attractive.

As intense as this storm was, it wasn’t quite as strong as the first winter storm I experienced here. That winter -- like December of 2002 -- the thunder was so loud it set off everyone’s car alarms. So not only did you have the tremendous clap of the thunder, but the wailing of about a dozen car alarms, too. It was very strange.

Last night’s storm went on all night long – something else that’s unusual. Thunder, lightning and rain continued on into the morning, then abated – but never really cleared – all day. Now, in the late afternoon, the thunder and lightning started again, and the winds picked up from a different direction. I had to go take down all my flower pots from the railing around the outside room – the wind was blowing them over, so it’s better to just set them on the ground than have them blow off.

As rare as these events are, my roommates never have a chance to get used to it. Molly Goldberg, the mostly Border Collie, suffers the most. If I had some doggy Valium, I’d probably give him some. Poor thing – Molly is a pretty big critter, and spends most of the time trying to crawl into some teeny space – like behind the toilet – trying to get away. He’s definitely not a happy camper right now.

Rachel, the mostly Poodle, is definitely a dog’s dog. She didn’t care much for the thunder last night either, but decided that the best way to handle something she didn’t understand was to bark at it, and maybe it would go away. So the thunder roared, and Rachel barked. None of us got very much sleep.

As lovely and interesting as I find the storm, of course it’s caused damage – not to mention loss of life. A hiker was killed in the flooding further south, in the Arava. His companion was brought here to Soroka Hospital and as of this moment, a third companion is still missing. Four other hikers were trapped in their car and rescued by helicopter.

It’s funny – all the hiking experts around the country caution people to never go hiking when rain is predicted. But there’s always a few who do it anyway. The thing is, because the rain is so intense, the ground can’t begin to absorb it, so flash floods occur, and once you’re in the path of one, it’s exceedingly dangerous.

In another incident, two people were rescued from a truck that got stuck in flood waters near Eilat, in Israel’s far South. In the same area, two IDF officers were also caught in the floods, and were rescued.

In property damage, roads have been closed down here, a bridge has collapsed, and streams all over are overflowing. Schools are closed in some areas, and the rain is expected to continue for the rest of the week – although perhaps more in the north than down here.

Israel needs the rain – no question about that. But for Beersheba, the rain that falls here – at this moment – is basically wasted. None of the rainfall here ends up in the Kinneret, which is Israel’s major source of fresh water. Some may replenish Beersheba’s numerous aquifers, but none of them are currently in use for water supply anyway.

What’s interesting is that by this time next year, it could be that this kind of abundant rainwater would be very useful. The new -- upcoming, work in progress – Beersheba River Park will include a 100 dunam lake. Not only that, but recycled water will be used to fill the ancient Nahal Beersheba that runs on the south edge of the Old City. By next year, all of this rainfall would be adding to the scenery in the Old City, making Beersheba

This year, we just get to enjoy it.

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