Ice, snow, and cold strike throughout Europe

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Snow in Birmingham, one of the many European cities affected by the storm.
Image: David Davies.

Freezing temperatures, combined with snow over the past few days, have caused travel problems throughout Europe and been responsible for the deaths of 10 people. On Monday a strong winter storm moved across Europe, covering parts of France and the United Kingdom with several inches of snow.

The storm ranged as far as Germany, Belgium, and parts of Northern Italy. It brought with it freezing, Arctic-like temperatures ranging from -5° Celsius (23° Fahrenheit) to -10°C (14°F) in the United Kingdom and France, down to -31°C (-24°F) in central Romania and what felt like -26°C (-15°F) in Germany. Forecasters predict that the freezing temperatures may be the start of a cold spell that could affect the entire continent throughout the month.

Monday's heavy snowstorm forced Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, slightly north of Paris, to cancel most of its flights. 1,658 passengers from Air France alone were stranded at the airport after their flights were grounded due to the heavy snow and icy conditions. The passengers from the 120 cancelled Air France flights spent the night in hotels near the airport which were accommodated for by the airline.

An official from Air France stated that the passengers "will have available food and hot drinks". Most flights were grounded until the next morning. Tuesday, an official from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle said, "It did not snow last night. The runways are clear and have been de-iced. Traffic is returning to normal."

The frigid temperatures resulted in several school closings across France and the United Kingdom, with government forecasters from both countries predicting that the cold would stay for several days. Many schools in the United Kingdom were closed because of problems with their heating systems, while heating repair services in Britain received a record number of calls this week.

In Paris, accumulating snow and slippery ice resulted in French officials closing pedestrian access to the Eiffel Tower, one of the city's prime tourist locations.

"We can't put down salt because it's metallic, we can't use sand either because it risks getting into the elevator," stated a press official from the Eiffel Tower. The tower remained closed on Monday and re-opened on Tuesday.

The storm has caused the deaths of at least 13 people, whether directly or indirectly. Polish government officials have reported that 10 people have frozen to death following overnight temperatures of -25°C as recorded throughout the country. Police in Germany reported that a 77-year-old mentally-ill woman also froze to death after she was reported missing from a nursing home in Weimar. Romanian officials reported that frigid temperatures killed two people and sent several to the hospital. Temperatures there were reported as low as -31°C in some parts.