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The Freak Middle Eastern Snowstorm, Seen from Space

Looking at the aftermath of an unusually intense snow that swamped Syria, Jerusalem, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

Last week, a strangely vigorous winter storm moved over the Middle East. Over several furious days the tempest threw the region into frigid pandemonium, putting 18 inches of powder in Amman, Jordan, and choking Jerusalem with so much snow the city is still reportedly paralyzed from what the mayor has called a "war of nature." 

"We're not used to this kind of weather—neither the residents nor the city," said municipal spokeswoman Brachie Sprung. "In any other situation, the government knows how to act."

The Middle East is no stranger to snowfalls, but this one's immense power and freak timing early in the season will no doubt have locals talking for a while. Even after the storm's departure on December 13, its icy fingerprint is still visible upon the land, as evident in these images captured on Sunday by NASA's Terra satellite. "For the most part, the snow is confined to higher elevations in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank, and Jordan," writes the space agency. "Some lower-elevation desert regions in Syria are also snowy."

The winter onslaught was just one feature in a system that dropped everything but a rain of fish. There was hail falling near Cairo, sleet battering the tents of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and flooding in Gaza that forced roughly 40,000 evacuations. Greenish plumes of sediment along the Mediterranean might be evidence of that flooding, although NASA notes that "stormy, turbid waters may also bring sediment to the surface."

As is often the case with large, damaging weather events, the storm has brought some level of cooperation to the deeply divided region. Reports the Associated Press:

The storm has come at a difficult time for Gaza. Recurring power outages have led to the suspension of many health care programs and services, including waste water treatment. Overwhelmed sewage facilities have been forced to dump untreated waste into the Mediterranean, and long lines are often formed outside bakeries while people wait to buy bread.

Despite its blockade of the Palestinian territory, run by the militant Hamas group, Israel over the weekend sent diesel fuel for heating and four water pumps as a humanitarian gesture.

Gaza received its first shipment of Israeli industrial fuel in 45 days on Sunday, bringing much-needed relief to the coastal territory after the storm. The shipment was paid for by Qatar, an oil rich Gulf country that has aided Hamas in the past. Officials said Gazans would now have roughly 12 hours of electricity a day, up from the recent level of six hours.

Want to know exactly where the snow still gleams? This comparison of the NASA image with a Google Maps shot should help identify the locations of cities and borders. From Terra:

From Google:

Images courtesy of NASA's EOSDIS Worldview and Google Maps

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.