Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Judging by the Floaters, Spring Is Here

It's spring. The signs are everywhere.

Buds have been sighted on municipal trees, soft breezes are blowing in from the Atlantic and the Moscow Fire Department is on the lookout for floaters.

During the last week of an eerily temperate winter, no fewer than 10 Muscovites have required emergency assistance after ice-fishing mishaps. Every year a handful of fisherman get stuck on breakaway ice floes, said fire department spokesman Andrei Molozin, but 1995 could set some precedents.

"Every spring we try to explain this. Fish off bridges if you want. Fish from the bank," Molozin said. "But it's spring. Ice melts. It's a simple principle."

On the other hand, who can blame them? On a normal year, ice fishing is safe until mid-March, when spring officially begins, said Stella Petrosova, deputy editor of Angler magazine. Since November, this winter has been warm. Unnaturally warm. Suspiciously warm. And ice fisherman aren't the only ones who have trouble believing it.

February's average temperatures were 5 degrees Celsius higher than usual, said Tamara Mnatsikanyan, a spokeswoman from the Russian National Weather Center. Rather than blowing in from the north, most of this winter's air masses have moved in from the Atlantic Ocean, so Moscow has been buffeted by warm, moist fronts.

This trend should continue through March, with temperatures in the first 10 days an average of 5 degrees above freezing, 9 degrees higher than usual.

True to form, Muscovites interviewed have had trouble deciding whether they were experiencing nice weather or forebodings of a terrible doom.

"It's been warm for the last 10 years," said Sergei Ipatyev glumly as he sold ice cream on Mayakovsky Square. "It's the ecology. It's some kind of gas."

"I think it means that next winter will be unusually severe. We had one like that in 1972. All the gardens froze," said Leonid Kruglov, science editor for the journal Rural Life.

Others suspected that this year's thaw was false and Muscovites would be hit by an apocalyptic late freeze. Sergei Yevsyukov, a businessman, fell into this camp. "Believe me, there will be more snow," he said. "A lot more snow."

Even if it turns out to be true, the fire department would like to say for the record that the ice-fishing season is over. This year's rescue operations have been uniformly successful, and the department has not been forced to bring out the helicopter. But the next fisherman might not be so lucky, Molozin said -- a floater's chances are a direct function of "how big the piece of ice is."

Although he agreed with the statement that stranded ice fishermen tended to be "stupid people," the spokesman also said he could sympathize. It will be a long eight months until the next perfect day, he pointed out.

"I guess I can understand," Molozin said. "It's an athlete's mentality. Sometimes people get very involved in their sport."