26 January 2010

Laconic Reports of a Record St Petersburg Winter, with 2000 shovels

Including valuable information about Heating Degree Days and Ice Thickness!


Our snow covered windowsill with frosted trees and a frozen courtyard, 10 Jan 2010

If America is a land of too much, sometimes Russia is a land of too little.  That too little can be not enough information.  What's  missing in weather reports in St Petersburg shows more about Russia.

Verbose prognostications...

I remember 5 to 15 minute weather spots with Uncle Weatherbee, Storm Field, and a succession of weather 'girls'.  I used to complain to my mother that they spent way too much time with diagrams of Highs and Lows, isobars lines of equal atmospheric pressure... and fronts of cold and warm air
lines with attached triangles and semi-circles when all I wanted to know was... Is it going to rain tomorrow?

Much or Not Much doesn't say much!

As with some other things, my simple wish was granted... but too far. Russiya TV and radio stations routinely give  a high and low for cities
with not much snow, не болшой спег  after each range of high to low temperatures.  It's particularly difficult to distinguish whether the announcer says не болшой or just болшой.  Heaven help you if you make noise when Larissa is listening to Mayak Маяк, Lighthouse  and this clip of words is drowned by your noise! 

Радио Петербург, Radio Peterburg,  gives a longer forecast, around a minute.  St Petersburgers care desperately what the weather will be as it determines sweater, coat, scarf, hat, and glove choices for the day. 

... So why is weather information so hard to come by in Russia? 

Some possible reasons...

The culture isn't naturally innovative.  People have trouble visualizing another way to do something as simple as a weather forecast.  The media are missing an untapped
advertising market that could be easily replicated by a week's observations in New York.

A landmark winter...

Expatriates, tourists, and poets are surprised yet pleased to be part of the coldest, deepest, and most chaotic winter since the first year of the Leningrad Blockade in 1941-42.  Now St Petersburgers have food and heat and aren't being bombed, so there is no comparison to that horrible yet heroic time.

St Petersburg's winters of note are 1883, the early 1940's, 1963, 1986-87 and 2009-10.  We have to go back to the early 1880's to match the snowfall of 2010.  

For those who have to get to work or carry heavy plastic shopping bags there is more aggravation than wonder about the record weather.

Since November 27 we have had only five days with lows less than -10 C, during the January thaw, from the 12th to 16th.  Today's low is -27 C  (-16.6 F)...  classic Russian cold!

Russian Winter Mystique

I know many places in America get phenomenal amounts of snow, high winds, and bitter cold.

Question...  So why is there a conception that Russia has the Worst Winter Weather?

Answer...    Because of winter's length... it's severity and persistence!

St Petersburg, close to the ameliorating effects of the Gulf of Finland, is next to the 60th parallel of latitude.  Half of Russia is north of 60° latitude.  This far northern half, along with the great expanse to the east through Siberia, represents frozen Mother Russia, the panorama of Pasternak's Dr Zhivago.

Even at 57° latitude in Tverskaya Oblast, where we summer, there are only a few months of sunny good weather. 

Russia overall has two main seasons... two to three months of summer, a long fall and spring with rainy drab cold on both sides of three months of winter.  Russians consider June 1 summer, September 1 the start of fall.

Winter Indicators in St Petersburg...

Cumulative snowfall
Petersburg had around 50 cm (20 inches) by 10 January... not a lot by
American standards, but much more than the usual 14 cm.  But the city called it a snow siege when around 35 cm (14 inches) fell during the last December weekend.  The opposition party suggested that some of the budgeted snow plows were never purchased. 

Smolny, the city administration, dispatched city workers and asked for military help to clear the roads.  They gave 2,000 shovels to volunteers that promised to help, one shovel for every 2,500 
people.  We don't know how successful this gifting of shovels was.¹

¹   St Petersburg Times, 28 December 09, Gail Stolyarova
HDD...Heating Degree Days

Heating degree days are the span between the temperature outside and the ideal temperature inside.  They are an absolute measurement that can be accessed easily on your computer for any city in the world. ²

²  Only Mongolia has a higher HDD annual average than Russia... 6681.

It seems that weather information is the only kind that rarely has been restricted, so there is little residual bureaucracy to hinder release of this data. 

Today it is -23 C (-9.4 F) outside our apartment.  We want it a cozy +20 C inside.  Allowing for body and machine heat generation of three degrees... we need to add +23 to +17 = 40 Heating Degree Days.
Average annual Russia Heating Degree Days      year 2009...5235 (USA 2159). 
Average annual St Petersburg HDD........................last year.... 4424

The cities, mainly responsible for providing heat, are at a disadvantage as it costs a lot to stay warm. Tax revenues are down because of the economic crisis, and heating degree days are up 21% for December 2009 as compared to December 2008 in St Petersburg.

December 2008 SPB 527 Heating Degree Days.
December 2009 SPB 667 HDD 3

³ You can find HDD for your locality on http://www.degreedays.net, by BizEE Software.
Days of snow cover 
123 is the average amount.  This year it may be much more.

Ice depth

The Russian Epiphany, Крещенские морозы, January 19 is twelve days after Orthodox Christmas. This time between the 7th and 19th is often the coldest of the winter.  The church relates it to the baptism of baby Jesus in the Jordan River.  

Hearty Religious immerse themselves through the ice in the Neva, other water bodies, and in tanks in some churches.  All water that day is considered potentially holy.  People collect it in jars to splash around homes and on the sick and any other loved ones that will hold still.

Holes in the ice are not only access for worshipers and winter swimmers...the Russki walruses, called morzi, моржи ... , but for fish to be pulled out! 

The Neva freezes between 25 Nov and 5 Dec and stays frozen till mid April.  There is plenty of time and cold to make for thick ice. 

This year the fisherman have to drill through around a meter of ice with a wide bit that allows them to get their catch.  A strong fisherman using a sharp hand augur can cut through a meter of ice in a few minutes. 

Other years I have seen these quiet grizzly individuals on the metro and electrichka, often packing some voda, their antifreeze.  Hand augurs stick out from their packs.
Icicle size                                  

Icicles hanging high from building are large enough to be deadly.  A woman pedestrian was killed instantly by such an icicle two weeks ago.

Tip... When in SPB in the winter, always walk on the street side of the walkway, well away from falling icicles, house plants, vodka bottles.
The usual method of clearing icicles was observed by an American missionary living in St Petersburg... http://lizinstpete.blogspot.com. Two women hold a warning tape at street level which they move below as a man chops icicles from roofs.

Scientists study icicles for climate information, pollution studies, and to improve roof design.

Can ice support a train?

One travel article states that winter trains in the east are rerouted over solid rivers and lakes to avoid the drifts and avalanches of their usual routes.  I haven't been able to substantiate this account, but it is theoretically possible as loaded train axle weight varies from around 17 to 100 tons.

Ice Strength Chart... Do not try this at home!

Thickness/Permissible Load (clear, blue, lake ice)

2"  -      5.08 cm        One person on foot
3" -       7.62 cm        Group, in single file
5" -     12.70 cm        Group              (6-8 people together)
7½" -  19.05 cm        Passenger car    (2 ton gross)
8"       20.32 lcm       Light truck         (2½ ton gross)
10" -   25.40 cm        Medium truck     (3½ ton gross)
12" -   30.48 cm        Heavy truck       (7 to 8 ton gross)
15" -   38.10 cm        10 tons
20" -   50.80 cm        25 tons
25" -   63.50 cm        45 tons
30" -   76.20 cm        70 tons
39.3"      1.00 m        more than a breadbox!
At the Water
Copied... with centimeter equivalents,meter entry, and flip comments added by Loquacious... from  a blog by Richard Atwater, a Navy retiree living in rural Minnesota.  Impressive bird photography.
There is a lot of intriguing, amusing information about the weather in Russia.  I hope that soon there will be  more complete reports in St Petersburg. 

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  1. I'm surprised, mostly by the fact that the AMOUNTS of snow in both St Petersburg and Moscow don't seem to be as much as we have had here in NJ (outside Philly) this winter, we had 45" in ONE WEEK. Granted it is so much colder over there, there is probably no melting at all in February, but still I always figured such ridiculous amounts of snow were typical of the Russian winter. Someday I would LOVE to visit in winter and experience Russia for myself. A fascinating posting by the way thank you,

  2. Greetings and Apologies to Anonymous!

    I read with interest your comment back in January, but I failed to reply to your worthy observations.

    Yes, it's been a surprise to me over the past ten years that the snowfalls are not impressive by NJ standards. I used to live in Hunterdon County, next to Pennsy, too. Maybe you remember the winter of 77-78 which was bitter cold, all January being below 0 F... with lots more snow than you will see in St Petersburg Russia.

    When you come to Russia, keep traveling till you get to Siberia, which has the snow of Russian legends.

    Thanks again for stopping by. I will answer with alacrity next time you comment!


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