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Fake Snow in Alps, Moscow Blooms: Green Christmas?

by: Laura MacInnis    13 December 2006

Alpine ski resorts are churning out artificial snow, daisies are flowering by the Kremlin in Moscow and retailers are fretting that Europeans are simply too warm to go Christmas shopping with a record mild winter.

Butterflies have been seen in Denmark, some Nordic golf courses -- usually frozen for the winter -- have reopened and many farmers worry that crops are sprouting far too early and could be killed by frost.

One historian says that Europe has just had its warmest autumn in 500 years. Experts say the mildness might be just a natural freak but many suspect it may be linked to greenhouse gases caused by human burning of fossil fuels.

Whatever the reasons, a recent dusting of snow has been welcome at Alpine resorts, now gradually opening after long delays.

"Everybody is happy that it has snowed. The whole atmosphere is more relaxed, it feels less stressed although the conditions are not totally perfect yet," said Joerg Romang, head of communications for the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.

"A lot of fake snow is being produced right now," said a spokeswoman for Austria's cable car association. Temperatures may rise again but the snow is easing fears that Christmas skiers may have to spend a snowless holiday hiking or at a spa.

In Russia, record December temperatures have kept bears from hibernating and flowers such as daisies and purple violets have been seen in and around the capital. Usually gripped by ice, Moscow basked at a record 7.7 Celsius (45.86F) on December 7.

"Muscovites are smiling: they don't have to wear hats and the grass is green," wrote popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, adding that Siberia would become the world's granary if temperatures stayed warm.


Retailers worry that shoppers are not cold enough even to start dreaming of a white Christmas.

"Christmas business lacks impetus as there is no Christmas spirit in warmer weather," said Hubertus Pellengahr, a spokesman for the German retail trade association HDE. "Retail sales are far more weather related than one might assume."

But Berlin's construction industry is keeping going at a time of year when a winter chill usually forces a slowdown.

"The order books are full and thanks to the good weather the contracts can be fulfilled," said Lutz Uecker, chief economist of the German building industry federation ZDB.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch meteorological institute KNMI said 2006 was likely to be the warmest year in three centuries, and linked the record with global warming that many scientists fear will bring more floods, droughts and higher seas.

"If you look at trends, then you can say that this (the 2006 record) is a signal of global warming," said Rob van Dorland of the KNMI atmospheric research department.

Farmers are worried that plants, confused by the spring-like temperatures, could suffer if harsh frost strikes. German asthma sufferers are complaining of pollen and Sweden has suffered rare December floods.

If crops such as rapeseed and autumn grains grow too much in the warmth "that could mean problems in snowless dry frost beyond minus 10 centigrade," said Andras Uhercsak, head advisor at the Hungarian farmers' group MOSZ.

In Finland, the Hartola golf club closed as usual because of snow at the start of November but reopened after a rare thaw.

A report in science journal Nature this month said 2006 had the warmest autumn since around the time Columbus sailed the Atlantic, about 2C (3.6F) warmer than the long-term average.

The autumn beat the record-warm autumns of 1772, 1938 and 2000, according to Elena Xoplaki of the University of Berne.