This past weekend I was ready to call it quits with the whole winter business — but then it started snowing again. Which I love.
You probably think that the famous Russian Winter looks like ^^. And it does, sometimes. But this never-ending season has many faces, and, sadly, Snowy Wonderland is among the least frequently seen, at least in Moscow. Which is why I had to take the photo above from Google Images. Here are the 5 stages that Moscow almost inevitably goes through from November through March, though the duration of the stages varies a great deal:
Snowing up a Storm
The season’s first proper snow may come in October — or late January. When it finally does, it’s glorious. The traffic might be in complete gridlock, but there’s no end to the joy of the young and the old alike (and the dogs!). Go to any central boulevard at 11 pm in the middle of a blizzard, and you’ll find toddlers on swing sets, couples making out, and cheerful crowds playing in the snow and drinking beer.
It might snow for hours or weeks (preferable), in +2C or -15C, and it might be crisp, flaky, wet, dry, powdery, fluffy, heavy, light and everything in-between. More please! I’m ok with it snowing every day until Spring is ready to begin in earnest.
Eventually the snow stops. Now the weather can go one of two ways: perpetually overcast until everything either melts way or it starts snowing again, or — a winter miracle! — a sun might come out! The lush snowy blanket sparkles under the blindingly blue skies. The colder it is outside, the most likely such a scenario. Those days are THE BEST. That’s when you must to skip out of going to the office and instead head to the nearest park to go sledding and feed the squirrels. Though I am yet to follow my own advice about playing hooky from work, I did walk around Moscow for 4 hours in -12C on Sunday. It was so beautiful! Unfortunately we only get a handful of those perfect winter days in Moscow each year…
Slyakot (Slushy Mess)
All good things come to an end. For the picture-perfect winter this means a thaw, and I’m not talking about the expected Big Melt some time in the spring. You see, over the course of six winter months the temperatures might jump from -30C to +2C and back to -30C within a matter of days easily a dozen times.
Russians say the word “slyakot'” with a particular kind of self-directed schadenfreude. The word refers to the muddy, slippery slush that takes over every street and sidewalk once the temperatures start to climb, sometimes running in ankle-deep streams. But slyakot’ can also mean generally bad, messy, wet weather.
If it is not snowing continuously, at least a little bit, the slush might take a week or two to go away. But if the weather keeps feeding it, a Moscovite might be trudging through it for months.
And juuuust when you’ve got your Wellies out, the whole mess freezes over, overnight. This is a very busy time in Moscow emergency rooms, because the hapless pedestrians are not just trying to hold their balance on the sidewalks sheathed in barely visible coat of ice, they are threatened by murderous icicles from above, too. This kind of “Hunger Games: Russia Edition” goes on either until the next thaw clears out the ice, or the next snow storm covers it up.
Bare, Cold and Grim
It is quite possible for Moscow to go through several of those deep frost / deep thaw cycles without seeing a fresh snowflake for months. Eventually all the snow melts away, and you are left with gray streets, patches of wilted green-gray lawns, gray skies, gray trees, gray cars (ALL the Moscow cars are gray in the winter because Moscovites are religiously opposed to washing off the caked-on remnants of slyakot’ till the spring) and gray buildings that seem to have attracted all the seasonal grime.
Meanwhile, the temperatures might get stuck around the freezing point or below the negative teens (-15C…-20C…) for weeks at a time. Last year we got relatively lucky: after the New Year’s there was pretty much no snow for two months, but it was downright balmy. This season, though, kicked off with -16C in late October. Luckily I was in Croatia!
So yeah, this is the worst kind of winter to live through in this neck of the woods, and sadly, the most common.
For now though, there is beautiful white snow on the ground. And hopefully, it starts snowing again soon.