A personal recollection of the worst September dust storm in Israel’s modern history…
The worst September dust storm in Israel’s modern history—the worst to strike Israel at any time in the last fifteen years—hit Jerusalem early on the morning of September 8th, 2015, the result of “sandstorms raging in the Syrian desert.” The storm lasted an unprecedented four days and began less than a week after Marcia and I had returned to Jerusalem after spending a month in the States.
Our apartment has no air conditioning. The walls of our 77-year-old building are composed of cut stone and poured concrete and are 18 inches thick. These, combined with our high ceilings and Jerusalem’s 3,000 foot elevation above sea level normally make hot weather bearable, if not comfortable, so long as the outside air temperature remains at or below 90 degrees. It also helps to be able to open the windows though that was not a viable option during the storm. We had no warning the night before the storm hit so we innocently closed shop the evening before with our shutters and windows partly open.
Morning brought a surprise.
Day 1, the sky disappears:
On the morning of September 8th, a Tuesday, I rolled out of bed three or four hours later than usual thanks to our recent travel marathon and, at first, noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Marcia had gotten up well before me and left the building. After blinking awake I found every window and shutter in the place shut tight.
The air smelled “funny” too. These should have served as strong clues but I simply yawned, hauled up one of the big shutters leading out to our balcony and stepped outside to catch some air.
Instead, I caught some dust.
The outside air had turned a luminous pale orange. It was not only difficult to breathe, it was hot. But I wasn’t concerned at first. We had experienced several dust storms over the last four years. Experience suggested that this latest would likely last no more than a day.
But the storms we had experienced in the past typically spun up from Egypt. This storm, I learned later, originated in the deserts of Syria and Iraq. Later that day, Reuters posted the picture below on-line, taken in Homs, Syria, 225 miles north of Jerusalem. Many people in Jerusalem were wearing breathing masks like the woman in the photo. (Explaining the Monster Storm)
Day 2, heat:
Tuesday’s high temperature in Jerusalem had reached 93 degrees. Wednesday, September 9, topped 97. Though the air inside our apartment was hot, still and damp, we had no choice but to keep the windows and shutters shut for a second day. The strategy succeeded only in forcing the blown dust to infiltrate more slowly. Our usually bright and airy apartment was hot and gloomy and, frankly, smelled like dirt. We napped a lot, especially after getting word that the storm was expected to last two more days.
Day 3, a breakout:
Days of doing nothing but napping, perspiring, web-browsing and sniffing dust in the dark is not nearly as much fun as it may sound. I had not been out of our apartment for roughly 60 hours.
Marcia had her outside adventure. I grew determined to have mine.
In spite of the persisting dust, I set out for our favorite butcher shop on foot (on Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony, the biblical name most often translated as Valley of the Giants). The air that day was noticeably less dusty than on day one but the temperature was expected to reach 95. Now and then I could see a glowing circle overhead, as I walked, revealing the whereabouts of the sun. I did not wear a mask and it was difficult to breathe but my butchers seemed glad, if not surprised to see me and it felt wonderful to be outside.
I arrived home after a little more than an hour outside, about 10:30 AM, temperature rising, still a bit early for a nap. Marcia and I coped with the heat by not speaking to one another.
Day 4, the dust persists:
We woke early Friday hoping to see bright, clear skies because the local media had hinted at the storm’s end. Instead, we suffered another 95-degree day and fine, light drifting dust. We defiantly opened the windows and shutters after three full days of gloom. It wasn’t pleasant, but the light and clearer air gave us hope. More naps, heat and troubled breathing, still nothing to discuss.
Enduring a multi-day dust storm is a lot like having the flu. In the attic.
The sky finally cleared on the morning of the fifth day, a glorious sight. We were thrilled and encouraged though the high that day would reach 93 degrees. (It would stay unusually hot and muggy for several days afterward.) I immediately went out for a walk. Marcia began dusting. Our nearly five years in Jerusalem have been pleasant beyond expectation, less four very trying days.