Friday, May 18, 2007

Belated storms wreak havoc in Lebanon

Belated storms wreak havoc in Lebanon
By Mirella Hodeib and Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star staff

CHOUF/BEKAA: Unusually late spring-time storms in Lebanon have left a trail of low-level destruction across the country, damaging cherry crops in the Chouf and flooding hamlets in the Bekaa Valley, where the government deployed earth-moving equipment Thursday to redirect waters that had trapped residents in their homes. Meteorologists disagree on whether the persistence of cloud cover and rainfall in May is part of a broad, long-term alteration of the country's weather patterns. For most observers of Lebanon's skies, however - be they frustrated beachgoers, soggy pedestrians in the streets of the capital or farmers concerned about the year's harvest - 2007 has repeatedly served up unexpected atmospheric surprises. "We never saw such grumpy weather since 1948," said Nidal Zeineddine, a longtime cherry farmer in the Chouf. "Our whole season is now at real risk." Torrential rains caused flooding in Ras Baalbek and Fekha in the northern Bekaa Valley Thursday, turning streets and avenues into fast-flowing rivers and preventing inhabitants from leaving their homes.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's office said he was concerned with weather-related damage in the Bekaa and had met to discuss the issue with Interior Minster Hassan Sabaa, Internal Security Forces chief Ashraf Rifi and Yehia Raad, director general of the Higher Relief Council (HRC). The HRC reported that it had provided concerned municipalities in Baalbek with necessary equipments and vehicles to open roads for motorists. The council is expected to survey losses as soon as the water recedes. The Civil Aviation Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport predicted on Thursday that rainy and cloudy weather would give way to sunshine on Friday afternoon. Wilson Rizk, professor of environmental engineering at the Saint Joseph University, told The Daily Star that the current weather was "not predictable, especially for this time in the year." Lebanon's climate, Rizk said, is undergoing a broad change and can no longer be divided into four distinct seasons. "Fall and spring are barely noticeable and they are being replaced with harsh winters and burning summers," he said. "In Lebanon, and because we can no longer consider spring as being a full-fledged season, summer weather and winter weather have entered a power struggle, and this is clearly manifested in the cold periods followed by very hot periods that Lebanon is currently witnessing," he said.

However, Abdel-Rahman Zawawi, head of weather forecasting at the Civil Aviation Department, told The Daily Star that the weather this year was "typical Lebanese spring weather, which alternates between hot periods followed by cold ones." "The difference this year, however," Zawawi said, "is the fact that this alternation renewed in both May and April due to excessive occurrences of warm fronts tagged along with cold ones." Distraught cherry cultivators in the Chouf called on the government to survey damage in the region and to compensate their losses. Farmers in upper Chouf villages such as Niha, Jbaa, Mrestey, Maaser, Botmeh and Barouk mostly cultivate cherry trees. High winds and hail this year have smashed both trees and fruits, farmers said. Zeineddine said that if the HRC does not respond to the "many" calls for compensation, cherry cultivators would stage protests. Rizk said that the weather fluctuations could "all be related to climate change." "Industrial development caused the levels of carbon dioxide to double in the atmosphere," he said. "On the other hand, the decline in green spaces worldwide has also added to climate change, which is the main factor behind all this altered weather."

Temperatures on Friday were expected to increase gradually and will range from 16-24 degrees Celsius along the coast, from 12-20 degrees in the mountains and from 11-24 degrees in the Bekaa Valley, according to the airport weather center. Weather forecasts said that winds on Friday would blow at speeds of 10-30 kilometers an hour, with visibility medium along the coast and poor in the highlands due to thick fog. The forecast called for 60-90 percent humidity.

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