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Europe in deep freeze, over 60 dead as new Arctic blast arrives


More than 60 people have died in Europe since the beginning of the month when cold Arctic airmass started descending south, toward the Mediterranean. The most vulnerable, and many of the victims, are homeless and migrants. The temperatures are expected to somewhat ease up over the next couple of days in parts of the region, but the weather is expected to further deteriorate by the end of the week. There are fears thousands of people could die before the winter ends.

While severe winter weather and extremely low temperatures, as low as -30 °C (-22 °F) and more in some areas, are affecting much of the south-central and eastern Europe since the beginning of the month, the impact of freezing temperatures in Poland was felt as early as November 2016. Between November 1, 2016 and January 10, 2017, the toll of hypothermia deaths in the country has reached 71.

The last winter in Poland was unusually mild but still claimed 77 lives in the nation of 38 million, compared to 78 in 2013 – 2014 and 177 in 2012 – 2013, the AFP reports. Another problem in Poland these days is severe air pollution as coal and waste-fired home furnaces drive up air pollution to the highest levels recorded in years. Authorities urged children and the elderly to remain indoors.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has expressed its concern for thousands of migrants, asylum seekers and others enduring freezing winter conditions. Dozens of migrants died due to exposure to extremely low temperatures, including those who recently arrived in cities like Rome and others in transit across the Balkans.

Of particular concern in this extreme weather, IOM said, are the more than 15 500 migrants and asylum seekers housed in camps on Greek Islands. This Mediterranean country has been hit by unusually cold snap and heavy snowfall since Friday, January 6.

Additionally, some 6 000 Syrian refugees in Turkey are reported to be without adequate, winterized shelter – out of a total refugee population of three million. IOM also reports over 7 500 people are currently stranded in Serbia, living in accommodation without adequate winter protection.

“After 2016, a year in which more than 5 000 migrants died trying to reach safety in Europe, it is imperative that the world respond to the dangers exposed by these extreme weather conditions with food aid, shelter and other resources in the short term and long term,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.

Central Emergency Services of Slovakia, said six people have succumbed to the cold weather in recent days. The country registered several records on January 8, The Slovak Spectator reported. In Oravská Lesná the temperature fell to -35.2 °C (-31.4 °F), Lieske reported a record -29.9 °C (-21.8 °F) and Poprad -24.6 °C (-12.3 °F), according to the meteorologist Paulína Valová from Slovak Hydro Meteorological Institute. The temperature in Dudince, southern Slovakia fell to -29.8 °C (-21.6 °F) which is its coldest temperature ever measured.

In the Balkans, at least 7 people have died since January 9, three each in Serbia and Macedonia, and one in Albania, media reported.

Six people have also died in Romania, where schools have been closed this week. The exact death toll in Ukraine is unknown, but media reports vary between 18 and 37 people this month.

As expected with such potent Arctic airmass outbreak, rivers and lakes across the affected region are freezing.

River Danube, the longest river in the European Union is experiencing its second freezing event (after 2012) since 1991. As a result, river traffic between Romania and Bulgaria, as well as in Croatia, was halted indefinitely on Tuesday, January 10.

In Turkey, heavy snowfall of almost 65 cm (25 inches) paralyzed its biggest city of Istanbul over the weekend. Hundreds of flights were canceled.

After hurricane-force winds along the Adriatic coast and excessive snowfall across the south-central Italy, the region is now looking at a bit milder weather, but just for a few days.

In Split, southern Croatia, the temperatures on January 7th dropped to -7.2 °C (19 °F) at 06:00 local time, which is the lowest recorded temperature this Mediterranean city experienced in the last 54 years. Due to strong winds, the real feel temperature was -27 °C (-16.6 °F). The lowest ever temperature in Split was -9 °C (15.8 °F), measured on January 23, 1963.

Local media reported on January 11 that some 3 – 5% of the city (population 180 000) is without drinking water. There are fears this percentage will rise in the coming days.

The city of Dubrovnik, in the Croatian far south, registered -3 °C (26.6 °F) on January 11. Its residents also woke up to snow today, a rare phenomenon for the city. The minimum average daily temperature for Dubrovnik in January is 6.5 °C (43.7 °F).

The coastal city of Saranda in south Albania saw its first snow in the last 30 years on January 10.

Another interesting record associated with this round of severe winter weather was broken in the Russian capital Moscow whose meteorologists registered -32 °C (-25.6 °F) on the night of January 7, 2017. It was the coldest Orthodox Christmas Night in 120 years, a meteorologist from Fobos weather center said. Some regions, such as Siberia and Yakutia, recorded temperatures of -40 °C (-40 °F), but these bitterly cold temperatures haven’t stopped worshipers from celebrating across the country.

“This Christmas night was the coldest one in the last 120 years, though the absolute record was more than 130 years ago. In 1881, it was -35 °C [-31 °F],” the Fobos center reportedly said.

This cold wave might ease up in some places over the next two days, but extremely cold temperatures will return with another Arctic blast, but this time they are expected to affect the entire Europe.

Cold, bitter winds and snow are first expected in the United Kingdom. Parts of it might see excessive snowfall and intense snow showers today through Friday, January 13.

From the UK, cold air is expected to spread east and persist until at least January 24.

Featured image credit: Marin Pitton Photoart. Picture captured on January 8, 2017 at Vransko jezero, Croatia.

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