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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coldest Winter in 30 Years Grips City




Temperatures across Russia plummeted Tuesday, killing homeless people, closing schools in Vladivostok and prompting a swan rescue operation at Moscow's Novodevichy Monastery.


And it will get worse before it gets better: Meteorologists say the week will just get colder - and over the next few months Moscow will sink into its coldest winter in 30 years.


"Winter has finally arrived," said Alexander Vasilyev, director of Gidromettsentr, the federal weather forecast agency, in a telephone interview Tuesday. Vasilyev predicted average temperatures this winter in Moscow will be 1 degree colder than last year's, which would make it the coldest winter since the 1960s.


The average daily temperature in Moscow has been hovering below zero since Sunday, and Tuesday it fell as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius during the day. Tuesday night, temperatures were expected to dip far lower, to minus 15 C in Moscow and minus 19 C in the surrounding Moscow region.


Daytime temperatures will hover around minus 13 C on Wednesday and Thursday, meteorologists say. Friday will bring some relief, with temperatures rising to somewhere between minus 7 C and minus 2 C.


The cold has been brought in by a massive front drifting down from the Arctic Ocean. Unhindered by Russia's flat northern plains, freezing winds are sweeping across the country, from Murmansk and St. Petersburg to Moscow, then to Central Russia, and eventually to the North Caucasus and Kazakhstan.


Such severe Arctic cold fronts have been given names in Russian folklore. When they come in January they are called the Christmas Frost; when they come in early May they are the Bird Cherry Frost.


But temperatures this low in early November are rare indeed, coming just once every 20 years or so, Vasilyev said. It is so rare that there is not even a picturesque name for it: It's just cold.


Every year the onset of winter kills homeless and drunk Muscovites. This week's cold snap has already claimed nine lives, according to Lyubov Zhomova, a spokeswoman for the city ambulance service. Another 67 people, many of them homeless, were hospitalized for hypothermia, she said.


In addition to human casualties, two frostbitten white swans had to be forcibly rescued from a pond near the Novodevichy Monastery on Tuesday, said Nina Tolmachyova of the Moscow Rescue Service. The swans were left shelterless when their wooden houses mysteriously disappeared from the monastery's grounds the night before, apparently stolen.


Rescuers spent three hours chasing the scared birds, Christina and Edward, around a pond covered with a layer of ice too thin to walk upon but too thick to break through with a boat. Eventually a Rescue Service diver, Levan Agarov, had to break a path through the ice with his body for the boat to follow.


In the end the two were lassoed and evacuated to the Moscow Zoo, away from hungry stray dogs and freezing cold.


In the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, temperatures were dropping below freezing but the city's central heating has not yet kicked on, which forced citywide closures of schools and daycare centers, Interfax reported.


Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov appealed to the local prosecutor's office to file charges against local energy supplier Dalenergo for not turning on heat to the city.


Dalnergo said the heat would come on later this week. Company officials also told Interfax that the city has not paid its debts, and that has left too little money to buy fuel for the winter or to repair some heating pipes.


So far, the cold hasn't caused any other damage. There has been no increase in traffic accidents, said Tolmachyova of the Rescue Service.


This year's harvest was poor but not because of the cold, as it was collected long before the frost set in, said Leonid Kholod, a former ministe r of agriculture - and a man clearly authorized to discuss winter weather, as his last name means "cold" in Russian.


If this week's temperatures are unusually severe, snow on Nov. 7 is nothing special. It traditionally accompanies Moscow's Revolution Day celebrations, as longtime Muscovites well know.


A Soviet-era anecdote even held that the tribunes above the Lenin Mausoleum were heated so that geriatic Kremlin officials would not freeze - even though their only movement as they spent hours watching marching crowds stream past was to wave phlegmatically.