Diether Endlicher  /  AP
Kuwaiti tourists on Germany's highest peak, the Zugspitze mountain near Garmisch, got a snow bonus on their visit Tuesday.
updated 7/15/2004 3:31:33 PM ET 2004-07-15T19:31:33

Snowball fights in July. Mulled wine instead of wine coolers. Thermostats set on high. Spring has come and gone, fall approaches — and Europeans are still waiting for summer.

Much of the continent awoke to yet another day of chilly temperatures and rain Thursday, adding to the weeks of miserable weather gripping Europe from Scandinavia to parts of the Balkans.

On Thursday, the mercury dipped as low as 46 degrees in Stockholm. The Swedes weren’t the only ones with the midsummer shivers: Temperatures dropped to 50 in Geneva, 51 in Budapest, 53 in Warsaw and 52 in Copenhagen.

And this on a continent that had feared a recurrence of last summer’s deadly heat wave.

This year’s May was fitful, and June promised a summer that could go either way. But except for southern Europe, July has been wet and almost glacial.

Temps half that of last year
On many days, temperatures have been half that of last year, when the mercury sat at 95 degrees or higher for weeks, resulting in crowded swimming pools, record ice cream sales, and stores emptied of fans and air conditioners.

Meteorologists say the comparison with last summer is misleading because 2003 was unusually hot and dry.

“It’s a little cooler than it should be, but it’s not too bad,” said Vienna weatherman Ernst Rudel, describing the rains sweeping Austria as “a little more precipitation than normal.”

But the wacky weather has in some areas led to virtual winter in July.

Instead of hiking, tourists in Germany’s Bavarian Alps have worked up a sweat with snowball fights and sleigh rides after snowfalls that dusted peaks — and in some cases valleys under 6,500 feet.

In central Germany’s Thuringia forest, guests recently gathered for an open-air theater performance clasped icy fingers around cups of mulled wine usually served at winter apres ski parties. Apparently it’s no attraction: Stefanie Loeser of the regional tourist office in Erfurt said cool temperatures and two weeks of rain have hit tourism hard.

English keep the heat on
Britons — whose summer weather is the envy of no one — have even less to laugh about than usual.

The July cold snap prompted British Gas to put its winter emergency contingency plan into operation to meet a surge in demand as people turned on central heating.

Chris Ison  /  AP
Clouds limited beachgoers Thursday at Bournemouth, England, where the scene last year was crowded sands and hot temperatures.

Shrewsbury in northwest England had a temperature of 53 degrees on July 8 — the coldest there ever for the month.

The sun shone a miserly three days in July in most of Britain, and on Thursday much of the country was murky and drizzly yet again. It was a particularly bad sign, being St. Swithin’s Day, when folklore holds that rain means another 40 consecutive days of downpours.

Elliot Frisby of the VisitBritain tourism board was nonetheless resolute. “We don’t sell Britain as a sun, sea and sand destination,” he said.

Persistent rain also left parts of Scandinavia wishing for relief.

Swedish ice cream producer Ingemar Folkeson said he was considering laying off nine of his 46 workers because of a drop in demand. Lars Fenner, managing director for Nestle in Denmark, said ice cream sales were “10 to 15 percent below normal.”

In France, where 15,000 people died in last year’s heat wave, the government has spent $82 million to hire staff and install air conditioners at retirement homes, a Health Ministry official said.

But this summer, weather in the Paris area has been mostly chilly and overcast.

In Vienna, another day of rain and cold left sidewalk cafe tables and outdoor pools empty. For Hubert Pichler, who runs a roller coaster and rents bikes in Prater amusement park, it was another grim day.

“I already made 10 percent less business in May, and in June I was down almost 30 percent,” he said. “We’ve only had three days of real summer this year.”

Hubert Teubenbacher, in charge of Vienna’s outdoor pools, said attendance was down 70 percent over last year.

Tanning, travel do well
Still, the news was not all bad.

Angela Steinkellner, who runs an indoor pool and spa south of Vienna, said demand was up 40 percent for the tanning machines. Video rental store owner Georg Schneider said he was doing 30 percent more business than usual.

And travel agent Angelika Plotz said business was booming for trips to Greece, Spain and most other points south.

“They just want to flee,” she said of her clients. “The weather is so depressing!”

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