VIENNA, Austria — It's nearly summertime — and the living is chilly across much of Europe.
Fresh snow fell Wednesday on parts of Austria — so much in some places that authorities closed roads to cars without tire chains — and temperatures dipped below freezing in corners of Croatia, England and Scotland, fouling moods and spoiling picnic plans.
The unseasonably cold June has even caused headaches in Italy, a country that's normally balmy at this time of year: officials say cooler-than-usual temperatures and hailstorms have inflicted millions in damage on crops.
In agricultural areas near Verona in northeastern Italy — one of the hardest-hit areas — between 30 percent and 40 percent of peaches and apples were lost after hail pummeled trees, according to Coldiretti, an Italian farmers' association.
Heavy rain and strong winds flooded some of Rome's cobblestone streets overnight, uprooting trees and forcing authorities to close several roads to traffic. The gusts continued Wednesday, rustling Pope Benedict XVI’s white vestments during his open-air audience in St. Peter's Square and forcing the pontiff to take off his skullcap.
"Strong wind in the sacred scripture is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and we hope that the Holy Spirit illuminates us now as we meditate on Psalm 110," the pope said as his robes fluttered in the breeze.
Over a foot of snow in the Austrian Alps
Parts of Austria's Alps were blanketed with nearly 16 inches of fresh snow, and the country's automobile club said numerous tow trucks were called to aid stranded motorists. No injuries were reported.
Although the snow was limited to higher elevations, temperatures dipped to 44 degrees in Vienna. Austrians call the late spring chill "Schafskaelte," or "sheep's cold" — invoking the image of the livestock shivering in the fields after being shorn of their first wool of the season.
The wet and chilly weather was decidedly uncool for 90,000 rock fans descending on the eastern town of Nickelsdorf for an open-air music festival that opens Thursday. Promoters of the concert, which will feature Weezer, Marilyn Manson and other bands, urged fans to pack sweaters and umbrellas.
To be sure, not all of Europe was chilly. In three of Portugal's northern districts, firefighters were on maximum alert Wednesday as a heat wave sharply increased the risk of forest fires.
But in Croatia, a few inches of snow fell overnight on the southern mountain of Biokovo, where the mercury plunged to 27 degrees, officials said.
Strong winds that reached 60 mph around the southern coastal town of Makarska prompted police to warn drivers and cancel ferry service with the popular resort island of Brac.
Dangerous sea conditions
Rescue teams in southern Croatia were searching for a German tourist who fell off his sailboat Tuesday in a storm at sea. They managed to save his wife. A surfer also disappeared in northern Croatia after heavy winds whipped up waves.
Heavy rain flooded several villages in central Serbia. A deluge fell on the region of Leskovac, and fresh snow blanketed the mountains of southern Serbia, the state weather bureau said.
It's been far colder than usual in parts of Germany, where overnight temperatures recently have dropped as low as 35 in the east, and in neighboring Switzerland, where high winds swept away several tents at a fairground last weekend.
Many parts of Britain also have had an unusually cold June.
Temperatures fell below freezing on Tuesday, with thermometers in the village of Aboyne, Scotland, recording 30 degrees, the Meteorological Office said, predicting more chilly nights this week.
The Royal Air Force base at Benson in Oxfordshire notched its lowest June temperature ever at 31.46 degrees Tuesday, beating the mark of 32 recorded in 1962.
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