Given that Israel is in election season and that political crises are brewing around the world, its a bit surprising that the most hotly debated topic in Jerusalem is whether it is going to snow on Wednesday.
But the rumors, controversies, and #fakenews storming over the issue are fierce, and each side has its set of facts it chooses to ignore.
Google Weather shows Wednesday night to be a balmy 9 degrees Celcius, with rain in the forecast but no white stuff. The more respected Jerusalem Weather Station, as of Tuesday morning, predicts “light snow in the air, with a chance of a thin accumulation on the ground that will disperse with the rain.” (That’s downgraded from its previous outlook, “a good chance of snow.”) In the Hebrew press, the top stories analyze why this particular storm is harder to track than usual, and that the three main weather forecasting models- the American, European, and the British systems- produce different outcomes for Wednesday night.
On Sunday, we were even treated to a flame war between competing amateur weatherman Facebook pages. While the popular Jerusalem Weather Forecasts page aggressively predicted snow, another page, Jerusalem Rain Alerts, responded “Other Jeru weather pages are getting carried away, just like in years past. Do not believe the hype!” Only in Jerusalem are there competing narratives about the weather!
As an Oleh from Chicago, where there is snow on the ground non-stop from December until March, it took me a few years to understand the fascination Israelis have with snow. But it is amazing how a blizzard is sanctified almost like a religious holiday here. An inch or two of snow makes the roads completely unusable, no one goes to work or school, and people get together to drink hot chocolate with family or start snowball fights with total strangers. (Also similar to Shabbat, people start leaving work hours early to prepare for a blizzard that may not even happen.) Its a pleasure on a Jerusalem snow day to bundle up in hat, gloves, and plastic bags on your feet, and walk around the streets to see everyone enjoying the weather together. Snow is one of the few things in Israel that seems to have the power to unite everyone.
Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s previous mayor, learned about the snow that “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Barkat, a businessman for whom life doesn’t stop for weather, came into the position with the attitude that Jerusalem needed to grow up and stop fooling around on snow days. Instead of days off, Jerusalem would stock up on snow plows and handle this the way a big city should.
That all changed with the big snow of 2013. Jerusalemites woke up on a Tuesday morning in December to the disappointing news that the Iriya didn’t see a serious snow threat that day, and that school would continue as normal. At 7:50 AM, I posted the dismal news in English on Janglo and proceeded to take my daughter to school. But by the time I got there 10 minutes later, everything had changed. School was indeed canceled, and the city was hit by its worst blizzard in decades. Ultimately, school was canceled for the next four days, roads were blocked, stores ran out of food, people were stranded without electricity, and the city was in crisis mode. Since then, Jerusalem has taken a much more cautious attitude to weather warnings. In fact, it seems to give weather warnings almost every week.
My wife asked me yesterday if, based on what I’ve read, I think it will really snow or not. I don’t know! All I can do is watch with amusement as we all wait (and pray) for a serious but gentle snow in the Holy City.