Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mother Nature Reigns Supreme

Carmel Mountains, Israel
When I started writing this blog, I promised myself I would show the good, the bad and the ugly; rather than only share Israel's finer highlights. When I first arrived, I had weeks of stellar weather. It was perfection. Not a single cloud in the sky and not a care in the world. However, it just so happens that the past week has taken a turn for the worse here in Israel due to the reckless and destructive path of mother nature. If you have not yet heard or have tuned out of international headlines, December began with the fiercest fire ever recorded in Israeli history. The fire took dozens of lives in the northern Israeli territory that it affected and the blaze also stirred national attention, bringing in aide from the U.S. and Australia. For a country that is one of the driest and most arid on Earth, it is surprising that such fires have not struck with more frequency. Take a look at the time lapse below of the forest fires that destroyed the stunning hills of Carmel close to the picturesque city of Haifa:

Clearly, this precious area of Israel will never be the same again. In total, 42 lives were lost, nearly 12,000 acres were blazed, some five million trees were destroyed and upwards of 74 buildings were burned to the ground. Several thousand families were displaced, and reportedly, the total rescue aide package is estimated at around $16.5 million. The losses are massive and seemingly irreparable. San Diegans, the Carmel fire is a uncomfortably close reminder of the fiery destruction that befell a massive chunk of San Diego county in the fall of 2003.

Though the fires in northern Israel have thankfully been extinguished completely, the road to recovery is a long one, as we all well know from tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina, the destructive earthquake in Haiti from earlier this year or the deadly 2004 Indonesian tsunami. Donations for the rescue effort here in Israel can be made to a number of organizations including JAFI (Jewish Agency for Israel) or the JNF (Jewish National Fund). Your money will go toward finding homes for displaced families, replacing demolished firefighting equipment and planting thousands of trees in order to rebuild the  natural forest that was lost.

Example of a large sand storm
Almost immediately after the flames were quenched in northern Israel came another strike by Mother Nature; this time not by fire, but by wind. I don't know if any of you back home have heard of a "sand storm", but that is exactly what you will see if you check the current weather status for Israel. Let me tell you a little bit about what this is like: you take a deep breath and step outside into a wall of brutal, howling 40 mph winds that are hovering around freezing and are whipping about with enough strength to literally pick you up mid step and knock you into your neighbor as you try to keep your balance.  Meanwhile, while you are fighting the bitterly cold wind and feeling your little earrings freeze against your ears, you may think you see fog all around you, but no, it is sand being picked up from the nearby Negev desert and blowing into the air all around you, blurring your vision, streaming into your hair and even into your  unknowing mouth. Nice, huh? During a sand storm, people just move as fast as humanly possible from point A to point B, and that is exactly what I did. I don't advise anyone to visit anywhere in the world during a sand storm. Well, maybe it's fun to watch from inside a warm, cozy place. If this hasn't painted a good enough picture for you, let me now show you a little video of what a severe sand storm looks like (this one is a time-lapse video from Iraq, provided on YouTube):

Jerusalem sand storm
Luckily, a sand storm should last no more than a few days. I have learned that no matter where you live in the world, you have to put up with some kind of repercussion of Mother nature. In California, we have earthquakes and wildfires; in the Midwest, you have snow, ice and vicious tornadoes; in the Southeast, you have hurricanes and humidity; and in other parts of the world you have tsunamis, blizzards, snowstorms or torrential rain, just to name a few. Israel, of course, is no exception. While it's almost perfect weather here for a large part of the year, it is not without its imperfections. It does get devastatingly hot in the summer (which, luckily, I love) and unfortunately, the winter is kin to sand storms, the occasional few days of heavy rain, and even a forest fires every now and then.  I guess you just can't win, no matter where you are. Hopefully, in just a few days, the weather will be back to its beautiful self. For now, I can say that I've survived my very first sand storm. It sure has been interesting! At least it was a reminder to head out and buy some rain boots for the rain spell that is hopefully not right around the corner.

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