The first major storm of the winter has piled on the misery for thousands of Syrian refugees living under canvas in neighbouring Lebanon and Turkey.
An area of high pressure, giving settled weather over Europe, is allowing very cold air to drive southwards across the eastern Mediterranean and Levant.
Heavy rain and snow, accompanied by strong winds, has already swept across Turkey, causing the Bosphorous to be closed to shipping on Wednesday.
That weather system is now bringing exceptionally low temperatures and bad weather to parts of Syria and its immediate neighbours.
It is estimated that more than 2 million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict began in March 2011. An estimated 1.4 million of those people have fled to Lebanon, with approximately 80,000 of those facing the prospect of a winter under canvas.
Lebanon’s capital, Beiruit, where many Syrians live in underground car parks, under bridges and old construction sites, has not escaped the bad weather. Minimum temperatures in December average 13C, but the last three nights have seen lows of 3 to 5C. Daytime temperatures have been some five degrees below average.
The weather has been worse in northern Lebanon and in parts of the Beqqa Valley, which is dotted with informal refugee camps. Here, snow has fallen and temperatures have dropped well below freezing. The strong winds have caused a significant wind chill. It is expected that parts of the region will see 5 to 10cm of snow in the coming days.
The refugees’ homeland, Syria, has not escaped the bad weather. Aleppo, which has experienced some of the worst fighting of the conflict, is likely to see snow showers in the coming days with temperatures barely above freezing by day and up to nine degrees below average overnight.
Recently, a rumour developed that the region was likely to face the worst winter in 100 years. This dire prediction was based on a long-range forecast emanating from the Russian Meteorological Department which suggested that the region was facing a colder than average winter. This was then misinterpreted and the rumour went viral.
The bad weather is expected to persist across the region for much of the coming week but there is no evidence to suggest that the weather will not return to more typical early winter conditions thereafter.