Russia in December is not typically known for its lack of snow. But this winter, the weather is so mild Moscow officials have resorted to bringing in fake snow to put its residents in a festive mood as Russians prepare to ring in the new year.
As the Russian capital experiences the warmest December since 1886, Muscovites have been looking up to the skies with one question on their minds — what happened to traditional Russian winter?
Over the weekend, Moscow authorities said they trucked snow from local ice rinks into the capital, dumping heaps of it in Red Square and landmark streets surrounding it, where thousands of people are expected to gather for the New Year festivities Tuesday.
Some residents expressed their disbelief and amazement at the sight of the artificial snow.
“With the Moscow budget you can buy anything,” one person mused on Twitter. “Even winter.”
Another posted photos of snow heaps dumped in Red Square behind a fence with the caption: “Moscow is now also spending money on snow,” in an apparent reference to over-the-top funding the capital gets in comparison to other Russian cities.
“I thought it was a joke that they were bringing in snow to Tverskaya [Street], but it’s a real deal," Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny quipped on Twitter referring to Moscow's main road. "An ideal example of the 'too much money to spend' saying."
But local authorities insist they haven’t broke the bank in bringing in leftover "snow" from ice rinks.
“The machines there are cutting ice and some residue snow is left behind. So we brought that in,” Alexei Nemeryuk, the head of Moscow’s trade and services department, told the Govorit Moskva radio station. “That snow is usually melted anyway, but we can use it instead.”
Russia’s Hydrometeorological Center said last week that 2019 has so far been the warmest year in the capital since weather records began.
It also said Moscow recorded a temperature of 5.6 degrees Celsius on Dec.18, breaking a record set in 1886.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted Acting Director of the Hydrometeorological Center Roman Wilfand Monday as saying that 2019 was also the warmest year in the history of meteorological observations in Russia.
The country goes into a virtual standstill during winter holidays as millions celebrate the new year and Orthodox Christmas. With snow viewed as an essential element of the celebrations, many in Moscow have been complaining about the “lack of holiday spirit," posting pictures of grey, snowless streets and landmarks on social media.
The capital is normally covered in snow in winter time with an average 24-centimeter (9 inches) snow cover, often causing treacherous road conditions and traffic jams.
Mild temperatures in the capital have even caused spring flowers to bloom early at Moscow State University's Apothecary Garden.
On Monday, Mother Nature came to the partial rescue with a light dusting of snow as residents broke out in a collective cheer on social networks and poured outside to take in the sight. Scattered flurries are also in the forecast for New Year’s Day.
Record warm December in the capital is raising more questions about climate change effects on Russia.
Permafrost throwing is already endangering buildings, pipelines and other infrastructure in affected regions, The Moscow Times reported.
Climate change has also been damaging sea-ice habitats for polar bears in the Russian Arctic, forcing them into closer contact with humans.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed climate change in his annual marathon press conference saying it poses a serious threat to Russia. He also claimed it’s “almost impossible” to ascertain how humanity is affecting the climate, but added that doing nothing is also not the answer.