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Government»Russia to Ban Snow

»Monday, September 14,2009

Happy city... goodbye countrysideIt defeated Napoleon and Hitler, but the legendary Russian winter is facing a formidable new challenge from the Mayor of Moscow, who wants to stop it from snowing.

 

Yuri Luzhkov has said that snow should be banished from Moscow in winter to save money and improve life in the city. He claimed that farmers outside the capital would enjoy more abundant harvests if his cloud-seeding programme was adopted.

Mr Luzhkov noted that city authorities already used such techniques to break up rain clouds and guarantee good weather on important public holidays, such as the annual May 9 parade celebrating victory in the Second World War. “Why don’t we keep this snow outside the Moscow city limits?” he said. “For the countryside, this means more moisture and bigger harvests. And for us, less snow.”

A snowless Moscow would be hard to imagine for anyone raised on romantic images of fur-clad Russians in winter-white landscapes. Mr Luzhkov, however, has had a habit of getting his way in Moscow as mayor since 1992.

Russian newspapers reported that his idea had provoked panic among residents in outlying regions, worried that they would be flooded out of their homes. Vladimir Litvishkov, a land management official, told reporters: “On those holidays when they clear the clouds over Moscow the surplus precipitation becomes a problem for us.”

A programme to manage the weather would cost only a third of the amount spent on snowploughs and round-the-clock clearance operations. City authorities send 2,500 snowploughs into action to clear snow, and employ an army of 50,000 workers to clear Moscow’s streets and pavements.

As many as a dozen cargo aircraft are sent into the skies over Moscow before major public events, scattering silver iodide, liquid nitrogen and cement powder into rain clouds to encourage precipitation. However, scientists warned that cloud-seeding throughout the winter could have serious environmental consequences.

There are other risks: a 25kg (55lb) bag of cement crashed through the roof of a Moscow home last year as an air force cargo aircraft carried out a cloud-seeding operation. Officials said that the bag had “failed to pulverise completely at high altitude”.

Winter in Moscow typically lasts from October to March, although recent years have seen unusually mild weather which some have blamed on global warming. A sudden snowfall in October 2007 caught the authorities by surprise and resulted in 3,200 car accidents in two days.

Clouds were seeded after the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986 to protect Moscow and other cities from radioactive fallout. Afterwards people around the city of Gomel in Belarus reported heavy black rain, which was kept secret for two decades amid allegations that residents suffered radiation poisoning.

Chinese authorities used cloud seeding to ensure a sunny day for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing last year, but the technology is not perfect. Vladimir Putin told world leaders that Russia had seeded the clouds ahead of the G8 summit in St Petersburg in 2006 to ensure fine weather. It poured with rain.

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