Europe's weather brings continent to a halt

The frigid temperatures and snowfall that began in Eastern Europe last week have reached Western Europe, snarling airport traffic in Britain and turning Rome white.  

Peter Dejong/AP
Snow covers typical Dutch scenery in the center of Amsterdam, Netherlands, Friday Feb. 3. Winter weather forced the Dutch railroad company to operate on an adjusted train schedule and traffic jams clogged up the Dutch motorways as a cold spell holds most of Europe in its icy grip.

It finally got really cold in Europe. Rome and the Netherlands recorded the lowest temperatures in 27 years and kids were making snowmen outside the Vatican. But the sudden arctic freezing last week in Ukraine, Hungary, and the Balkan states that steadily crept up the continent also took a toll, with 131 reported dead in Ukraine alone.

Winter usually arrives earlier in Europe than the United States, accompanied by piles of snow and ice, wind, and low temperatures. But “winter” as a story this season had been delayed here for lack of an appearance. Recent bits of snow – one inch in Berlin, two in Copenhagen, and three in London – seem remarkable since during November, December, and January, the continent was an advertisement for mildness. After Christmas carols at London's St. James Cathedral a few days before the holiday, patrons left to eat dinner outside. Berlin was bucolic. The ski industry was slightly panicked by the lack of snow.

Now Heathrow has been partially shut, emergency helicopter teams are rescuing people in Bosnia, lying under epic snow drifts, and residents of Rome are making a run on supermarkets. The sudden drop in centigrade happened so dramatically that Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, where 53 have died from exposure, has changed policy and called on homeless shelters to allow in inebriated persons.

In the Czech Republic, temperatures registered at -39.4 degrees Celsius (roughly equivalent in Fahrenheit), and a small town in The Netherlands, Lelystad, reached -21.8 degrees C (-7.2 degrees F), the lowest since the mid-1980s. 

As temperatures have fallen, gas prices from Russia, the main pipeline, have risen – to the highest levels since 2006, according to Reuters.

Wheat and electricity costs are expected to rise after the arctic snap, which has disrupted travel mainly in the United Kingdom. British meteorologists said the cold may abate temporarily before continuing for another month.

The scope of the frigid blast has been immense: Moscow recorded temperatures at -28 C (-18 F), the lowest in 60 years, according to RT.com, and snow fell in parts of rural Algeria in northern Africa.

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