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WEATHER

Shivering Europe hopes for weekend respite as deep freeze persists

Europe's deep freeze, which has cost more than 60 lives over the past week, continued to wreak havoc early on Saturday as the shivering continent awaited a sliver of weekend respite from a brutal Siberian cold front.

Shivering Europe hopes for weekend respite as deep freeze persists
Icicles hang on a bench in a bay in the village of Attersee, Austria on Wednesday. Photo: Wolfgang Spitzbart
After heavy snowfall and deadly blizzards lashed Europe, conditions marginally improved in some regions on Friday — although temperatures generally remained sub-zero, forcing more major delays on roads, railways and at airports.
 
But Britain's Met Office said the Arctic temperatures were set to rise.
 
“After the extreme weather many of us have seen recently many will see conditions ease a little through the next few days,” it said.
 
In France, the forecast this weekend was for rain rather than the kind of heavy snowfall that has blanketed vast tracts of Europe.
 
The deadly chill has been caused by weather blowing in from Siberia. British media have dubbed the front “the Beast from the East,” while the Dutch have gone for the “Siberian Bear” and the Swedes plumped for the “Snow Cannon”.
 
Over the past week, the freezing conditions have claimed more than 60 lives, according to an AFP toll, including 23 in Poland, seven in Slovakia, six in the Czech Republic and five in Lithuania.  Other deaths were recorded in Spain, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway.
 
France has seen at least nine weather-related deaths, including four skiers killed by an avalanche on Friday in the Alps, which have seen particularly heavy snowfall. A 41-year-old Libyan man was found dead in an empty train carriage in the
western French town of Saintes. Police suspect he died of hypothermia, but could not be sure.
 
In Austria meanwhile, five migrants abandoned by smugglers were rescued from a motorway near the city of Graz on Friday, some of them walking barefoot in sub-zero temperatures, according to police.
 
Switzerland has seen the mercury plummet to records of up to -40C (-40F) in the ongoing blizzard, which has even covered usually balmy Mediterranean beaches with a blanket of snow.
 
Geneva's busy airport announced it had re-opened shortly after midday Friday “despite the unfavourable meteorological conditions”, having warned earlier it faced staying shut for a second consecutive day as snowstorms continued to lash the Swiss city. Airport authorities warned, however, of further “delays and cancellations”.
 
Italy was also still stuck in sub-zero temperatures with a number of major roads blocked because of snow and black ice as forecasters warned the country's northern and central regions would see little immediate improvement. Many schools remained closed and local authorities told people to remain indoors unless they urgently needed to travel.
 
Elsewhere in Europe, Serbia and Croatia saw some improvement but two people died overnight in Poland as temperatures plunged to a low of -27C (-16.6F). They were set to remain as low as -17C across the day in some areas even as forecasters spoke of a relative weekend thaw.
 
Folldal, a small village in central Norway, saw a record European low for recent days of -42C during the night. Even so, residents used to harsh conditions were sanguine.
 
“Life is generally ongoing,” mayor Hilde Frankmo Tveren quipped to broadcaster TV2.

WEATHER

Europe set for unusually warm winter but faces cold blast in December

Europe faces a higher-than-usual chance of a cold blast of weather before the end of the year, but the winter overall is likely to be warmer than average, the continent's long-range weather forecaster said Thursday.

Europe set for unusually warm winter but faces cold blast in December

Temperatures this winter will be crucial for homeowners worried about the record cost of heating their homes, and for European policymakers seeking to avoid energy rationing due to cuts in Russian gas supplies.

“We see the winter as being warmer than usual,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service that produces seasonal forecasts for the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).

“Nevertheless there is a still a significant chance of a block situation, which can lead to cold temperatures and low wind over Europe,” he told AFP as the service issued a monthly update to its forecasts.

A so-called block or blocking pattern in the winter can bring stable, often wind-free weather accompanied by freezing temperatures.

“This was looking more likely in November, but there now looks like a pronounced probability of a cold outbreak in December,” Buontempo said.

The ECMWF produces weather modelling with data from a range of national weather services around Europe.

Its forecasts are based on indicators such as ocean and atmospheric temperatures, as well as wind speeds in the stratosphere, but do not have the accuracy of short-range reports.

The models provide the “best information possible, to give a hint, to guide our decisions”, Buontempo said.

The European winter was expected to be warmer than usual because of the “La Nina” global weather phenomenon, which is related to cooling surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

“We know that in a La Nina year, the latter part of the European winter tends to favour westerly winds, so warm and wet,” Buontempo said.

The agency will update its winter season forecast next month when it will have greater confidence because “all the drivers for the winter will be more active”, he said.

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