MOSCOW – Inured to interminable winters, Muscovites have been stunned this year by spring-like temperatures and virtually snow-free sidewalks after the Russian capital recorded its warmest January in history.
It is the first time that Moscow’s average temperature in January has hovered around zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahreinheit), say Russian meteorological experts, who say the city has broken warm weather records this month as well.
Flowers have bloomed early, zoo animals have prematurely woken from their winter slumber, winter sports enthusiasts have had to travel further to find snow, and the city’s outdoor musicians have hit the streets early.
Indeed, Muscovites might need to get used to milder winters as experts predict an uptick in abnormally warm temperatures throughout the year.
Roman Vilfand, director of the Russian Hydrometeorological Centre, said higher temperatures were being recorded year-round, causing irreparable damage to the country’s permafrost.
“The warming that is being observed not only in winter but also in summer is dangerous because it causes the permafrost to thaw,” Vilfand told a news conference on Thursday.
“The concept of ‘permanent’ disappears, and the frost turns out not to be eternal.”
Experts say that Russia, which has a large portion of territory in the Arctic, is experiencing the effects of global warming faster than some other countries.
Mikhail Lokoshenko, head of Moscow State University’s meteorology and climatology department, said that although weather anomalies were not solely the product of global warming, experts were witnessing more cases of unusually high temperatures.
“In Russia, the speed of global warming is 2.5 times higher than the global average,” he said. “At higher latitudes, it happens more quickly than the tropics.”
But 62-year-old Tatiana, strolling through the city’s botanical gardens, said she was unsure about the cause of Moscow’s winter meltdown.
“It was cool last summer, maybe that’s why this winter is warm,” she told Reuters.
“The average temperature works out how it should be. Or maybe (Swedish teenage climate activist) Greta Thunberg is right.”
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