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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Snow Brings Hassles and Relief

MTCommuters walking near Savyolovsky Station on Thursday. Temperatures dropped to minus 14 degrees Celsius.
Moscow ground to a halt Thursday as a major blizzard caused dozens of flights to be diverted and snarled traffic on the city's roads.

As much as 20 centimeters of snow was expected by the end of Thursday. The storm began at around 6 a.m., bringing the warmest winter weather on record to a dramatic end.

The daytime temperature on Thursday averaged minus 10 degrees Celsius, and the mercury is expected to dip to minus 20 C next week.

Muscovites stuck in rush-hour traffic jams may have despaired as winter arrived in force, but others regarded the sudden change in the weather as a godsend: Ski areas were open for business at last, and the bears at the zoo were finally getting some shut-eye.

For travelers, the news was all bad on Thursday. At least 31 flights into Moscow's busiest airport, Domodedovo, and the smaller Vnukovo Airport, had been diverted to Nizhny Novgorod, St. Petersburg and other Moscow airports by mid-afternoon Thursday.

"This is Domodedovo," said Vera Bragina, an airport spokeswoman. "We're used to it."

She said outbound flights experienced minor delays because planes had to be de-iced before takeoff and denied reports Domodedovo had been closed to inbound flights Thursday afternoon.

"It is the pilot's decision whether he wants to land the plane. Our dispatchers just give them the local weather information," she said, adding that visibility actually improved during the day.

At Vnukovo Airport southwest of the city, at least 10 flights had been diverted to different airports by lunchtime Thursday, a spokeswoman said.

There were no reports of delays or diverted flights at Sheremetyevo Airport northwest of Moscow.

Southern Moscow bore the brunt of the storm, said Yelena Timakina of the Federal Meteorological Bureau, where up to nine centimeters of snow had fallen by mid-afternoon.

On the city's roads, minor accidents were up by 30 percent Wednesday night and Thursday morning, city traffic police spokesman Igor Koleskov said.

"We registered 1,651 minor accidents in that period. We usually get between 1,000 and 1,200," Koleskov said.

Those accidents brought most of central Moscow to a standstill during the morning rush hour on Thursday, Koleskov said.

A dispatcher at New Yellow Taxi, who declined to give her name in line with company policy, said the snowstorm had "brought chaos to the streets."

"Our clients are canceling their taxis left, right and center," the dispatcher said. "When the sun is out, business is much better."

The dispatcher said there was not "a major city street where terrible traffic jams haven't been reported," including the Garden Ring and all the arteries bringing commuters into the center.

But consternation in the city center turned quickly to relief a few dozen kilometers beyond the Moscow Ring Road.

At the Volen ski center, the slopes were open and a rush of skiers had already created a line for the lift, said Yekaterina Semyonova of Volen's Moscow office. "The unhappiness is over," Semyonova said. "Winter is truly here," she added.

The slopes have been open for a week across the valley at Yakhoma ski center, a spokeswoman said. Until Thursday, it had relied on a combination of "old snow and ice and synthetic snow" to cover the slopes, she said.

"Natural snow is so much better, and the atmosphere here is like New Year's Eve all over again," she said.

The plummeting temperatures were also good news for a pair of Kamchatkan bears at the Moscow Zoo.

"They fell asleep over the weekend," zoo spokeswoman Natalya Istratova said. The bears, one male and one female, had previously slept only intermittently.

In the wild, bears hibernate to pass the winter, when food is scarce. But the lack of sleep isn't such a problem for the bears at the zoo, Istratova said, because they can be fed by handlers.