Heavy snowfall paralyzed many parts of the Czech Republic on Sunday, closing Prague's Ruzyne Airport for over ten hours, restricting highways to one-lane traffic and cutting off mountain towns and villages. Many people claim this is the longest and harshest winter in half a century.
On Sunday people across the Czech Republic woke up to 25 centimetres - or ten inches- of fresh snow on the ground and more coming down by the minute. Twenty four hours of persistent snowfall delivered more snow in the course of that day than had fallen in Prague during the entire winter. Ruzyne Airport closed down to all incoming and outgoing traffic in the blizzard that lasted through most of the day as snowploughs worked non-stop to clear the runways. Although road maintenance crews had been out in force all night the country's main east-west motorway, the D1, was restricted to traffic in one lane in each direction and progress was slow due to numerous accidents along the road. Traffic on the outskirts of Prague was moving at a snails pace, trains were delayed and the inter-city bus service was disrupted. Not a situation you would expect on March 12th, but this winter has been one of the worst in memory. Radim Tolasz from the Hydro-meteorological Institute explains that these unseasonable spells are part of the climatic change that was forecast years ago:
"This is due to climatic change which climatologists predicted twenty years ago. They said then that we should expect extremes during the winter, extremes during the summer and so on. And the weather on Sunday, especially in Prague and the northern Czech Republic, was fully in line with this forecast."
Does that mean that we should expect a similar patter in coming years - severe winters and hot summers?
"We can only expect extremes. The next winter could be completely without snow. That would be an extreme too. You can't expect harsh winters with heavy snow year after year. That would not be an extreme. An extreme is one winter with heavy snow and the next completely different. That's climatic change."
So basically - we'll never know what to expect?
"That's right, we will not know what to expect in the coming season or next year. What we know is that climatic change is the result of solar activity, astronomical activity and human activity combined."
The economic losses caused by Sunday's heavy snow fall have yet to be assessed, but one negative aspect is clear. Road maintenance crews have already spent all of their allotted funds for 2006 on clearing away the snow and spreading salt on icy roads. When the snow finally melts it will reveal a lot of new potholes and no funds to patch them up with. One thing is obvious - climatic change is something we shall have to be prepared to deal with in the coming years. So far Czechs have pretty much resorted to their traditional weapon against bad weather: their sense of humour. Students have held a mock demonstration against it and Czech songwriter Jaromir Nohavica has written a song about his winter blues. Czechs are sending it to each other on their mobiles and its helping them feel just a tiny bit better.
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