The Middle East Is Blanketed in Rare Snowfall

The Middle East Is Blanketed in Rare Snowfall

A man poses for a picture next to a snowman outside a forested area in the Sidi al-Hamri region of Libya’s eastern Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) upland region, about 200 kilometres east of Benghazi, on February 16, 2021.
A man poses for a picture next to a snowman outside a forested area in the Sidi al-Hamri region of Libya’s eastern Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) upland region, about 200 kilometres east of Benghazi, on February 16, 2021.
Photo: AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)

It snowed in the Middle East on Wednesday, covering parts of Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Israel in rare white blanket. The region is known more for being dry and hot than snowstorms. But a huge dip in the jet stream similar to what’s happening in Texas allowed polar air to plunge from the Arctic into the Middle East where it interacted with a storm to create surreal scenes.

For some, this was a cause for celebration, inspiring people to don cozy hats and gloves to build snowmen. Viral videos of Saudi camels confused by the strange, cold white stuff also emerged. Really, please watch this. But across the region, the snow has also exacerbated already dire circumstances, spurring power outages, disrupting covid-19 vaccinations, and threatening to destroy refugee camps. These photos show what it’s all like.

Earther staff writer. Blogs about energy, animals, why we shouldn't trust the private sector to solve the climate crisis, etc. Has an essay in the 2021 book The World We Need.

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Amman, Jordan

Amman, Jordan

Jordanians make a snowman in the ruins of the Amman Citadel following a snowstorm in the Jordanian capital Amman, on Feb. 18, 2021.
Jordanians make a snowman in the ruins of the Amman Citadel following a snowstorm in the Jordanian capital Amman, on Feb. 18, 2021.
Photo: Khalil Mazrawwi (Getty Images)

Snow fell in north and northwest Jordan, including the capital, Amman. Seeing snow itself isn’t that rare for the country; Jordan saw snow in 2019, too. But at 8 inches (20 centimeters), this week’s storm total is pretty notable. Clearly, it was pretty fun for some. But the snow also created complications, forcing the country to suspend its covid-19 vaccination drive due to the severe weather.

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Jabal Al-Jawiya, Syria

Jabal Al-Jawiya, Syria

 A Syrian man rides a motorcycle among groves covered with snow in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria’s Idlib province, on Feb. 17, 2021.
A Syrian man rides a motorcycle among groves covered with snow in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria’s Idlib province, on Feb. 17, 2021.
Photo: Omar Haj Khadour (Getty Images)

In Syria, the snow created beautiful scenes, including in the Idlib province in the north which is controlled by rebel opponents of the President Bashar Al Assad. According to Middle East Eye, residents of the province headed out to play in the wintry landscape and threw snowballs.

Nearly 200 miles (322 kilometers) away in the Syrian capital of Damascus, people were also pretty excited about their first snow of the season. The inclement weather didn’t stop the Premier League soccer tournament from taking place, even though snow covered the field.

But the snow also wreaked havoc in parts of Syria. In the northwest, civil defense workers are concerned about the 3 million displaced people who live in refugee camps, often in tents and other temporary shelters. Last month, heavy rains damaged over 10,000 tents. The snow could add another compounding problem.

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Jerusalem

Jerusalem

A woman holding a dog slides down a snow-covered slope following a snowstorm in Jerusalem, on Feb. 18, 2021.
A woman holding a dog slides down a snow-covered slope following a snowstorm in Jerusalem, on Feb. 18, 2021.
Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA (Getty Images)

Palestine and Israel also saw snow fall. The occupied city of Jerusalem saw its first snow in six years, in some places accumulating up to 10 inches (25 centimeters). It was the city’s coldest night of the year.

Excited by the rare occurrence, people of all kinds went out to enjoy the rare occurrence. But on Thursday, Israeli police ran into the courtyard of the Dome of the Rock inside Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and opened fire on three Palestinan kids who were playing in the snow. According to the Palestinian Chronicle, they then detained one kid for the crime of...throwing snowballs at the cops and Jewish settlers.

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The Palestinian-Israeli Border

The Palestinian-Israeli Border

A partial view shows Israel’s controversial separation wall and the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp following heavy snowfall in the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem, on February 18, 2021.
A partial view shows Israel’s controversial separation wall and the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp following heavy snowfall in the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem, on February 18, 2021.
Photo: AHMAD GHARABLI (Getty Images)

The unequal ways the snowfall played out for Israelis and Palestinians extended far beyond Jerusalem. According to Forward, Israeli officials were well-prepared for the snowstorm, so while schools and roads were closed, major havoc was avoided. But in Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine, it was a different story. The Palestinian news source WAFA reports, for instance, that the snow has caused damage to homes in the Gaza Strip. The snow has also caused issues for vaccination campaigns, with sites closing their doors and rescheduling appointments due to the wild weather.

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Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

A man pushes a large snowball in front of the Blue Mosque on February 17, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey. An overnight cold front brought heavy snowfall to Istanbul in the early morning, covering the city in snow, delaying morning commutes, and disrupting ferry services.
A man pushes a large snowball in front of the Blue Mosque on February 17, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey. An overnight cold front brought heavy snowfall to Istanbul in the early morning, covering the city in snow, delaying morning commutes, and disrupting ferry services.
Photo: Chris McGrath (Getty Images)

Turkey got hit by the snowstorm, too. In Istanbul, snowfall started late last week and continued for five days. Up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) fell in some places. That’s a lot for some of the areas affected by the storm, and as such, it caused some problems. Officials said more than 500 trees and electrical poles have fallen since Friday when the flakes began to come down. More than 200 vehicles and 100 houses have also been damaged, though thankfully, no injuries have been reported.

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Sidi al-Hamri, Libya

Sidi al-Hamri, Libya

This picture taken on February 16, 2021 shows a view of a snowy forest area in the Sidi al-Hamri region of Libya’s eastern Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) upland region.
This picture taken on February 16, 2021 shows a view of a snowy forest area in the Sidi al-Hamri region of Libya’s eastern Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) upland region.
Photo: AFP (Getty Images)

The Green Mountain region of Libya saw its first snowfall in 15 years. Flakes started falling there on Monday and kept dropping for two full days. It created a calm scene in the region’s forests. But it’s also a sign of future erratic weather. Increasing climate variability due to the climate crisis is a big threat to Libya’s agricultural production, and can also exacerbate violent tension throughout the area. Not to be a bummer.

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Earther staff writer. Blogs about energy, animals, why we shouldn't trust the private sector to solve the climate crisis, etc. Has an essay in the 2021 book The World We Need.

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