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NORTHERN DISPATCHES

SNOW

‘Where’s my Swedish winter wonderland?

The rotten winter has British transplant Paul Connolly wondering whether the promised snowy lands of northern Sweden haven't just turned into.. the sodden UK? The current mediocrity is not what he signed up for.

'Where's my Swedish winter wonderland?
This is what Paul signed up for. It ain't what he got this year. File: Anders Wiklund/TT

We’ve had a terrible winter up north. Absolutely rotten. Temperatures seem to have hovered around 0C for practically the whole winter, meaning that while we’ve had some snow there have also been long periods of thaw. There was even some rain in December, January and February. Rain! Up here! In the winter! It’s unthinkable.

Getting away from the rain is one of the main reasons we chose the north when we moved over from the UK two years ago. Last winter we had four to five rain-free months and godly amounts of snow – it was fabulous. This winter, I’ve regularly driven in drizzle and it’s been awful. It’s like living in southern Sweden or, horror of horrors, the UK.

Of course, a mild winter reduces the attraction of northern Sweden somewhat. Although some brave lads, who clearly don’t mind damaging their snowmobiles or potentially slipping through some thin ice on a lake, have been out in the slender, icy snow, none of my friends have ventured out very far.

There have been no great snöskooter safaris – I haven’t even hauled my skooter (snowmobile) out of storage. I’ve not ridden it once. If I do get to ride it next winter it’ll have been the first time for 18 months. How can I really justify keeping such an expensive piece of kit if I don’t get to use it every year?

The roads have been treacherous too – I’ve not had an accident but I know of two people who have slid off the road. Driving here is usually really enjoyable, especially in the winter – not so this year.

The locals are baffled by the mildness. They hate this weather as much as I do. Apparently this is the warmest winter up here since records began. Randy, my neighbour, says he’s barely been skiing. “The snow is thin and horrible.” And there’s no sign of it getting any better – the forecast is for rising temperatures. March usually sees a decent amount of snowfall but the only precipitation promised is of the liquid variety. Bears have been seen coming out of hibernation early, flowers are blooming months early.

Part of the magic of northern Sweden is that you usually get proper, defined seasons. Summer is very warm, autumn relatively balmy and beautiful (the autumn colours up here are spectacular), winter cold and snowy and spring bright and fresh. This current mediocrity is not what I signed up for. We’ve not even had much sun. The days have been relentlessly grey and dull as these heavy, warm systems have squatted over the area.

It seems this bad winter is to be blamed on meandering jet streams, pushing warmer weather north and cooler weather south. Nobody seems certain if this is set to be a trend. What is certain is that if we have another winter like this next year, we will have to re-evaluate our situation up here. I love northern Sweden but without the snowy, cold winters it just won’t be the same anymore. 

Paul Connolly

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WEATHER

VIDEO: Meet the rooftop snow clearers keeping Stockholm safe

Stockholm's snow-topped buildings may look charming, but heavy snowfall can be dangerous. An army of 'sweepers' take to the city's rooftops to clear them of snow in a carefully managed operation.

VIDEO: Meet the rooftop snow clearers keeping Stockholm safe
Rooftop snow cleaner Andrei Pilan clears buildings in Stockholm's picturesque old town. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Teetering on the edge of a black tin roof ten metres (33 feet) above ground, Andrei Plian and Alex Lupu clear a thick white blanket of snow off a building in Stockholm's historic Gamla Stan (Old Town), while their colleague on the street below keeps watch to warn pedestrians passing by.

While to many the job would be vertigo-inducing, for Plian and Lupu – two roofers by trade – it gives them a chance to admire the view.

“Being here on the roof and looking up at the sky, you feel that freedom,” Plian tells AFP, seemingly ignoring the biting subzero chill.

Secured with ropes, carabiners and a safety harness, he climbs the few remaining steps on a ladder attached to the roof and breaks the serene quiet of the sunny February morning with a clank as his shovel hits the tin roof.

Click on video below to watch:


The constant clearing of snow from the city's roofs is first and foremost done for “the safety of the people”, but also to maintain the buildings, many of which are hundreds of years old.

“If there is too much snow on the roof it is too heavy for it so you have to take it off,” the 36-year-old says

A ten-year roofing veteran, he moves around fluidly and with confidence. Getting the job done quickly is key as more roofs are waiting, but safety remains a top priority.

“Every time you have to think about safety, it's the number one rule. You don't have room for a mistake here. If you make one mistake it could be your last,” Plian says.

In early February, another snow clearer was seriously injured while clearing a roof in the northern Swedish town of Umeå, with initial findings showing he wasn't wearing his safety harness.

Under Swedish law, property owners are responsible for clearing snow and ice off their buildings if it threatens to fall and injure someone, but accidents are rare.

“As far as I can remember there has only been two deaths in the last 20-30 years or so,” Staffan Moberg, spokesman for the insurer industry group Svensk Försäkring, told AFP.

In one case in 2002, a 14-year-old died after being struck by a large block of ice that broke off a building on Stockholm's main shopping street Drottninggatan.

Moberg added that they don't keep statistics on incidents since they are rarely requested, and while accidents do happen on occasion, “the consequences are mostly not lethal and very seldom even severe”.

But after every fresh snowfall, signs immediately sprout up on sidewalks and facades warning passers-by of the risk of falling snow and ice, awaiting the arrival of the “snowploughs” in the sky.

While Plian and Lupu are busy at work on the roof above, Fredrik Ericsson is tasked with ensuring the safety of pedestrians down below.

Using a high-pitched whistle, he signals their comings and goings: when he blows his whistle once the shovelling stops to let people pass, and two whistles signals the all-clear to resume work.

Ericsson concedes that it can be a tricky task as people are often oblivious, sometimes wilfully, to the work going on.

“They don't show that much respect, they just walk past, so I have to stop and yell at them,” he explains. “They don't see the danger.”

By AFP's Helene Dauschy

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