Many parts of the Middle East and Levant are experiencing their first real taste of winter as cold, windy weather sweeps rain, snow and sandstorms across the region.

Snow has fallen even at low levels; it began falling on Wednesday in northern Israel, the Golan Heights and in the mountains of Lebanon. Istanbul in Turkey saw snow falling on its major bridges, bringing travel disruption across the city.

Heavy snowfall is an infrequent but, nevertheless, regular occurrence across the region. In December 2013, what was reported to be the heaviest snowfall in 50 years, caused widespread disruption.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, at a planning meeting with senior police and emergency service officials, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of 2013’s chaos. Back then, hundreds of motorists had to be rescued after becoming trapped in their vehicles.

Schools across Jerusalem have been closed as forecast warnings of up to 25cm of snow were issued.

For once, Israelis and Palestinians were united in their search for food supplies and gas or paraffin heaters. Many stores were stripped of all supplies which might help residents beat the cold and snow.

The situation is particularly bad in the Gaza Strip where people are still trying to rebuild their lives after the summer shelling by Israel. The snowfall added to the misery of no electricity and a lack of drinkable water.

Lebanon has also seen stormy weather battering its coastline and snow has hit the Bekaa Valley region, home to many refugees from the war in Syria. Many of those affected by this current spell of bad weather will at least take some comfort from the fact that the current bad weather is unlikely to be as severe as that which hit them just over one year ago.

Jordan has also seen the effects of this storm system. The capital, Amman, lies at an average elevation of 900m and can be very cold during the winter months. At 0700GMT on Wednesday the temperature was 5C with a sustained wind of 45kph. This combines to produce a wind chill of minus 2C.

Wintry weather is likely to persist across the Middle East over the next few days. Colder weather, albeit without the rain or snow, will sweep across Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Many cities in the region will see temperatures drop by as much as 10C in coming days with brisk winds bringing the threat of sandstorms.