THE 5 STAGES OF RUSSIAN WINTER

This past weekend I was ready to call it quits with the whole winter business — but then it started snowing again. Which I love.

Russian winer wonderlandYou 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.

Winter Wonderland

Kremlin in the snowEventually 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)

Moscow Slyakot 5All 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.

Moscow slyakot 1

Moscow Slyakot 4City-Wide Ice Rink

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

Moscow gray 2 Moscow grayThis. Is. The worst.

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.

Moscow winter sun

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25 thoughts on “THE 5 STAGES OF RUSSIAN WINTER

  1. Beautiful pictures! I’d enjoy winter/snow a lot more if it weren’t for the slushy mess that inevitably comes with it and lasts for months here! 😦

      • Latvia could compare – I still have nightmares about those icicles 😉 You have to walk in the middle of the path for months on end – too close to the buildings and you might be impaled, too close to the road and you end up a human slushie 😉

  2. Ugh! Chicago gets mushy and grey so fast but when it first snows it is so pretty! (I still HATE winter though!) The first pictures are beautiful. Stay warm! 🙂

  3. I moved to the Western Russia 2,5 years ago from Siberia and I could compete the winter there and here.Here in Western Russia winter is mild but the air is more wet so the temperature of -10C below zero feels like -20C in Kemerovo region.However only the season 2012-2013 was realy seemed as real Russian winter.There were:-29C periods,snowstorms(in Tver people had to walk several kilometers to their jobs because the transport get stuck on the snow) and ice until April.Just like mild winter in Kemerovo region.But the 2013-2014 season was awfull:I have neve expect that I would set our New Year fireworks on the ground but not on the snow before this).Almost no snow,slyakot on the streets.There was even an ecologycal disaster.A lot of fish died because of toxic algaes which population increased during the warm winter.
    Now the winter is somewhere in the middle between the worst and the normal season.Well,the snow finally began to fall at the end of December and now we finally have a snowdrifts on the streets.But the situation with temperature is not the best.The lowest was only 21C below zero and now even cloze to zero.In case of temperature growth our winter wonderland will turn into slyacotland.

    • Oh it’s the same in Moscow too: often -2C when it’s wet and windy feels way worse than -20C when it’s still and snowing/sunny. The former gets inside of your bones, and everything just feels sickly. 2013-2014 was indeed lame, but the winter before didnt seem all that spectacular to me either, way too little snow for me.

  4. I. Am. Disappointed! There I was thinking oooooh what lovely snow in Moscow, when you burst my bubble and say that it isn’t “normally” like that anymore! Whaaaat! If Moscow doesn’t get “proper” snow and New York does, I can’t see why sceptics say that we don’t have global warming. We most certainly do!
    P.S. I’m in a little village in the Czech Republic right now. There’s lots of pretty snow! 🙂

    • I feel the same way! Tho recently it’s been snowing again, so it’s back to pretty. This winter we have been really, really lucky, it’s quite an anomaly.

  5. Lovely photos. How does it work with footwear, then? Do you wear a warm pair, then carry a dry pair for work? And why aren’t titanium umbrellas invented to protect from the icicles of death?!

    • That’s a million dollar questions right there 🙂 (and I wrote about it in brief here https://gohomeandaway.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/sweaters-skinnies-and-boots/ ). I do keep a few pairs at work to change into, but over the course of the winter I rotate everything from Wellies (for the Great Floods) to fur-lined suede boots (for the -15C and below), to thick riding boots with a thick pair of knee socks (when it’s a little cold but still slushy). And I try to stick to those with thick, abrasive rubber soles. They all get destroyed so quickly by the elements, that I now buy boots in bulk. I go to every single show sale where boots are sold, because the pair that lasted me 6 or 7 years in NYC was gone after one season in Moscow.

  6. These 5 stages really reminds me of Munich and Winnipeg together ahaha
    I am surprised to know that the winter in Moscow isnt as cold as I imagined… but of course, still cold and colder than Munich.
    As you I also pray it keep snowing until spring, otherwise it is reaaally boring and depressing. Ohh, I dont even need to mention that sun is also something veeery rare around here too, and this miracle also happened at the beginning of this week, sooo awesome 😀
    Enjoy the snow!!!

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