Mon, Dec 26, 2011 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: No snow has Finns looking at a rare ‘black Christmas’

DARKNESS:Temperatures this month have been 6?C warmer than normal and in the dark winter months, many are missing the reflective qualities of the snow

AFP, HELSINKI

This combination picture shows a view of a street, Siltasaarenkatu, in the Kallio district of Helsinki, Finland, on Nov. 24 , top, and on Nov. 23 last year.

Photo: AFP

Helsinki’s streets are festive with vibrant Christmas decorations and bright advertisements tout the season’s must-have gifts as shoppers bustle through packed stores, yet something is amiss: There’s no snow.

The absence of white stuff has not only left Christmas revelers gloomy, it has affected businesses ranging from ski resorts to retailers and, of course, snow removal companies.

The situation is in stark contrast to last year’s heavy snowfalls at this time of year, when Finns showed off their “snow-how” to the grid-locked continent, including state-of-the-art snow removal and special motorist support teams.

However, that was then. Now, Helsinki is experiencing uncharacteristically mild temperatures this month and only light dustings of snow have come and gone.

“At the beginning of December, it was on average 6?C warmer than is usual for this time of year,” meteorologist Pauli Jokinen said.

He said the snow’s no-show in the south of the country this year was partly because of natural variations, but also a footprint of global warming.

“You can’t put a single season down to climate change, but we have seen that climate change has lifted the baseline temperatures,” he said.

The meteorologist confirmed what many Finns, especially in the milder, southern parts of the country, already fear.

“Our best guess is that in many parts of southern and western Finland, it will be a black Christmas,” Jokinen said.

After last year’s excesses, this year’s lack of snow has stonewalled many businesses.

The balmy autumn forced the cancelation of two major skiing events in Levi, Finland’s northern nerve center for competitive and recreational winter sports.

“The World Cup race and the European Cup had to be canceled because of the lack of snow. These are very big events for the area,” said Tarja Nikkanen, marketing manager for Levi Ski Resort.

Nikkanen pointed out though, that with about 25cm of snow on the ground and accommodation booked months in advance, the Christmas season still looks promising for tourists seeking a picture-perfect winter wonderland.

However, she said that the ski slopes tell a different story.

“We have the biggest snow-making equipment in Finland, but we’re not able to use it because the temperatures are not low enough to keep the snow,” she said.

During the dark winter months, when the Finnish sun sets in the mid-afternoon, residents often long for the light-reflecting quality of snow to relieve the gloom.

In northern climes like this, some people are susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition marked by bouts of depression that some research has linked to a lack of sunlight.

This year, the absence of snow, supplanted by heavy rains, has cast its shadow over the retail business as well, Jaana Kurjenoja of the Finnish Trade Association said.

In a recent survey, 42 percent of the association’s retailers said their businesses were suffering as a result of the weather conditions.

“Usually, warm clothes are popular at Christmas time, but they’re not selling this year,” Kurjenoja said. “Skiing and slalom equipment have also suffered and sports retailers say they haven’t been able to sell their winter goods.”

However, one retailer’s gloom is another’s glee.

Some merchants who lost out during last winter’s heavy snows are experiencing windfalls this year, Kurjenoja said.

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