Lebanon News

Wettest winter in 16 years draws to end

BEIRUT/SIDON: Lebanon’s wettest winter in 16 years may have dealt its last blow, with warmer and drier weather expected throughout the week. Although May is around the corner, many woke up Sunday to weather more reminiscent of Christmas morning than Easter, as heavy rains and snow persisted across the country.

“[The last time Lebanon] witnessed the same combined rainfall as this year was in [meteorological year] 2002 and 2003,” Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute Director-General Michel Afram told The Daily Star.

Beirut received 1,033 millimeters of rain between Sept. 1 and April 22, according to the Meteorology Department at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport. During the same period for 2017-2018, the figure was 543 millimeters - making this year’s downfall an almost twofold increase over last year.

It is a good sign, according to Afram, who pointed out that between the years 2003 and 2018 Lebanon had unusually low rainfall.

“Thank God, this year ... was excellent across Lebanon. Rainfall increased by more than 100 percent in most places,” he said.

Many experienced a white Easter, with snowfall reaching altitudes of 1,100 meters. In Bsharri, the Cedars saw 40 centimeters of snow, leaving farmers worried that fruit-bearing trees would be damaged if the temperatures dropped further, the state-run National News Agency said.

Snow had started to accumulate at an altitude of 900 meters in Rashaya and Western Bekaa, with 5-20 centimeters of snow in higher mountain towns. Near Rashaya, many greenhouses were damaged and cattle trapped in the snow.

In south Lebanon, the towns of Shebaa and Kfar Shuba were cut off by the snow, which reached depths of around 20 and 15 centimeters respectively. Twenty-five centimeters of snow blocked the road connecting Shebaa to Rashaya, and heavy rain caused the Hasbani and Wazzani rivers to flood.

In north Lebanon’s Dinnieh, snow covered most of the towns 1,100 meters above sea level, with farmers worrying about the weather’s effects on the agricultural season, especially on pear, apple and cherry trees.

Agricultural engineer Imad Mahmoud told the NNA that the snow might negatively impact cherry and apple trees, expressing fear of frost forming on the trees that would damage their flowers.

In the south, many have found that the unusually wet winter has been good for business. Sidon-based clothes shop owner Imad, who did not provide his last name, said customers were not yet interested in spring clothes. “The demand for winter clothes has returned again and people are buying hats and wooly jumpers,” he told The Daily Star. Imad was pleased with the unusual weather: “We have got rid of the last of our winter stock.”

Fruit growers in the south welcomed the heavy rains, which provide much-needed irrigation to their crops before the hot summer months. “Let it rain - let it rain a lot,” said Mohammad Qassem, a lemon-grove owner from a village near Tyre.

“God has been blessed us with rain, irrigating our fields with his water. God’s water is not polluted, so each bean is sweeter than sugar.”

Fellow lemon grower Mohammad Zaatari didn’t expect to spend money on pumping or water in the coming months.

“The state gives us water in exchange for money. But God sends it down from the heavens as a gift. Lemons have ripened and water has enriched the soil,” he said, smiling.

“We will not use motors to pump the water from the wells for the next two months. God knows what we need and has given us it for free.”

Manual laborer Mahmoud Abed works cutting the grass in the central median along Sidon’s corniche and was astonished by how fast the grass was growing. “I cut the grass two weeks ago and today I am doing it all again. We are typically used to doing it once per spring.”

This week is expected to begin with only partial cloud cover and a slight rise in temperature - yet still below seasonal averages - fluctuating between 11 and 20 degrees Celsius in coastal regions, accompanied by mild fog and scattered rain in the highlands.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 23, 2019, on page 3.

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