- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

MOSCOW — In the 1820s, the poet Alexander Pushkin famously wrote about a freak winter when the thick snowfalls, which usually cover the city from November, did not arrive until Jan. 15 — or Jan. 3 in the old czarist calendar.

This year there is still no sign of it, and one day last week, a temperature of 48 degrees Fahrenheit was registered, more than 7 degrees above the previous record set in 1957.

The lingering autumn, or premature spring, is provoking unusual behavior in Russia’s natural and human world. Bears are failing to hibernate, which poses a danger to people in remote areas. Daisies have been seen in the lawns under the Kremlin walls.

In the Apothecary’s Garden, founded in 1706 by Czar Peter the Great, hyacinths and tulips are sprouting in the flower beds. Muscovites are walking around without fur hats, gloves and heavy coats.

Some love the unexpected freedom. “It’s great,” said Yuri Lukin, who is studying English in the hope of migrating to the warmer climes of Australia. “I can’t stand the cold and having to be bundled up in clothes all the time.”

But skiers, skaters and snowboarders are frustrated, and many Muscovites say they feel depressed because they are not getting the sun that normally comes with colder, crisper weather. Psychologists are recommending that people eat chocolate and bananas to keep up their spirits through damp, gray days.

The unseasonable weather, which contrasts with last winter’s bitter cold, has highlighted the ambivalent attitude toward climate change and environmental issues in Russia.

Although many Russian scientists still doubt the phenomenon of global warming, the extraordinary absence of the annual deep freeze is proving hard to dismiss as a one-time freak of nature.

Alexei Lyachov, the director of Moscow’s Meteorological Bureau, said it was certainly conceivable that climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions was responsible. “Usually, with records, temperatures creep up or down by fractions, but we are talking here about four [Celsius] degrees,” he said.

Although President Vladimir Putin has joked about growing pineapples in the Arctic, Russia has played a key role in trying to limit greenhouse gases. It was the addition of Mr. Putin’s signature to the Kyoto Protocol that enabled the international agreement to come into force, despite the refusals of the United States and Australia to join.

However, critics say Russia can meet Kyoto criteria not so much because of great strides in reducing carbon dioxide emissions but because its economy is still functioning below capacity, a legacy of the post-Soviet collapse.

Many Russians cannot help wondering whether a temperature rise of a few degrees could be a good thing. “Our agriculture might become more productive and we could economize on the use of energy and building materials,” said Alexander Kislov, the head of meteorology and climatology at Moscow State University.

Alexander Belyaev is a weather forecaster who gives daily broadcasts on the popular NTV channel. Normally at this time of year his forecasts are for snow, snow and more snow, but this year he has been offering detailed explanations of how Atlantic cyclones have blocked the usual flows of icy Arctic air.

“Last Thursday’s temperature would have been normal for April 23,” he said. “It is as if we have missed winter completely. It is a unique situation in the history of weather observation.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide