Lebanon set for white Christmas with winter storm bringing snow

While the news might bring festive cheer and a boon to the tourism industry, it could endanger the lives of refugees

Parts of Lebanon were expected to wake up to a white Christmas this year, but in a country that is home to more than a million refugees wintry weather was unlikely to be universally welcomed.

Storm Loulou was expected to bring snow to parts of Lebanon above 1,400 metres overnight, but lower areas will only have rain and high winds, the meteorological department at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport said.

The officials said the storm could lead to wind speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour and a raging sea.

"We will have a white Christmas in Lebanon," a representative for the meteorological department told The National on Tuesday.

“The snow will continue until Thursday, so it will be snowing for about two to three days.”

The storm is expected to increase in strength until Thursday and could cause flooding in lower areas of the country due to rain.

The Mount Lebanon range, which runs almost the entire length of the country and has peaks taller than 2,000 metres, will receive the majority of the snowfall.

The Cedars Resort, the oldest ski area in Lebanon, is due to have the most snow this week, at about 76 centimetres.

Webcam footage of Mzaar Ski Resort in Kfardebian, about 50km north-east of Beirut, showed a mostly brown run down to the chair lifts on Tuesday but some of the higher slopes were sprinkled with snow.

The latest snowfall may bring an earlier start to the skiing season in the country, with slopes usually only opening in the new year and running until March or April, depending on conditions.

While the wintry weather may be welcomed by the Lebanese tourism industry, the cold will make life more difficult for the thousands of people living in the country’s refugee camps.

About 1.5 million Syrians live in Lebanon, with most living in camps and substandard accommodation such as unfinished buildings or shacks.

Few of these shelters are well insulated or suitable for the cold months, despite efforts by UN agencies to help refugees to prepare for winter.

Last January, storm Norma brought snow and heavy rain to at least 66 camps, forcing the UN to relocate hundreds of people living there.

Aid groups warned refugees were at risk of freezing to death in the conditions because they had only tents and blankets to defend against the cold.

The weather is unlikely to affect the anti-government protesters in Beirut, with forecasts showing that snowfall is unlikely in the capital or in other coastal areas.