Sunday, 5 February 2012

European freeze-up

During the past week, we have seen news items on the exceptionally cold weather prevailing across Europe. In many places temperatures have hit record low. This naturally poses severe problems in areas that do not normally face such harsh conditions. More than 200 deaths resulting from the cold have already been reported.

The freezing weather is caused by cold air coming all the way from Siberia and forming a massive swirl of high pressure that has been hovering over Russia and most of Europe. The eastern and central areas of the continent are being hit hardest while the Mediterranean and the UK will escape the worst because travelling over an unfrozen sea is warming the air to some extent.

However, the freeze-up has already reached London and Paris and even Rome has now been covered by snow. Snowfall is so rare in these cities that I would have loved to witness it, especially in Rome which is one of my favourites, probably the favourite. On the other hand, I would most likely have appreciated only the visual side of it, not the actual experience of seeing how freezing temperatures affect a Mediterranean country. During our latest visit in September, it was some +30°C (+86°F), which in turn was exceptionally warm that late in the autumn.

Piazza della Rotonda in Rome on a warm September evening.

Living in the north has taught us Finns to get along with arctic conditions. We have been confronting the Siberian winds for centuries, our houses are designed to withstand them and our society is well prepared for them. It is unthinkable that our schools, public transportation or any other public service would be closed because of any kind of weather ever. It would have to be a much more serious event, something totally unexpected, to stop our society from functioning as usual (perhaps with the exception of occasional blackouts in the electric power supply as I told in an earlier post).

Nevertheless, there is a downside to the fact that we as a people are so accustomed to winter and everything it entails. It means that we take it for granted. We dont let it disturb us and carry on in much the same way all year round, perhaps adding a couple of extra layers of clothing in the winter and that’s it.

Thus when an unusual weather event takes place, such as the heavy powder-like snowfall we had on Friday on the southern coast, we do not take notice of it. We do not change our behaviour at all but drive in the morning rush as close to the next car as in the best of weathers – causing hundreds of crashes completely jamming the main highways leading to the capital for most of the day.

I find it hard to understand why this is repeated here whenever there is zero visibility, which happens if not every winter at least every few winters. It seems that living in a country where winter tyres are compulsory from December until February and everything works in all weathers has made us lose our touch with nature. We have forgotten it cannot be controlled from inside your warm car in indoor clothing.

Nature should not be taken for granted. It should be respected with appropriate attention, consideration and equipment. It feels strange even my fellow countrymen should be reminded that in winter traffic a simple thing such as proper winter gear may be all you need to save your day.

By the way, right now our thermometer shows -32.2°C (-26°F).

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