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04 December 2023

'Beast from the East' sends Europe mercury plummeting


A blast of Siberian weather dubbed "The Beast from the East" sent temperatures plunging across much of Europe early Tuesday as commuters braced themselves for another day of travel chaos.

Freezing temperatures have claimed at least seven lives across the continent in recent days with particularly acute fears for rough sleepers in the bitter cold.

An Arctic cold front, which Britain's tabloids have christened "The Beast from the East", has swept in from Russia, causing widespread travel disruption and school closures.

The frozen temperatures in Europe are in stark contrast to the Arctic itself which is experiencing an unusually warm period despite it being the depths of winter when the sun never even rises above the horizon.

Meteorologists have documented temperatures above freezing in some parts of the Arctic, causing astonishment among many scientists.

"The Arctic is having an off-the-charts heatwave this week," the European Geosciences Union wrote in a tweet.

Yet hundreds of miles further south, temperate Rome woke to its first snowfall in six years on Monday thanks to the Polar Vortex.

The mercury dipped as low as minus 4 C (24 Fahrenheit) early Tuesday morning according to the Italian Meteorological Service.

A string of major football matches, including Italian Cup bouts on Wednesday between Juventus/Atalanta and AC Milan/Lazio, could be postponed if the cold weather continues, officials have warned.

In Poland, where at least two people have died of exposure since Saturday, temperatures dropped overnight to minus 12 Celsius while parts of Lithuania saw the mercury fall below minus 20.

Temperatures in France are forecast to drop to minus 10 C and feel as low as minus 18 C over the coming days.

On Sunday, a 35-year-old homeless man was found dead in the southeastern city of Valence, and two days earlier, a 62-year-old man died in his cabin in the woods outside Paris.

Some local authorities have ordered officials to find shelters for the homeless.

In Belgium, a local mayor in a municipality of Brussels ordered homeless people to be forcibly detained if they refused to go to shelters.

Etterbeek mayor Vincent De Wolf said the cold was a "major risk", stressing that it was his responsibility to avoid potential deaths with temperatures set to drop to minus 15 C on Wednesday night.

In Berlin, local authorities said homeless shelters were already at 95 percent capacity with temperatures dropping to minus 20 C in some parts of Germany.

Icy temperatures have caused travel disruption in the Netherlands while in Croatia snow drifts have forced authorities to close numerous motorways.

"This week looks like being the coldest period we have had in the UK for a number of years," Britain's weather service, the Met Office, said on Sunday, warning of travel delays.
"Parts of England and Wales are likely to see their coldest spell of weather since at least 2013 -- perhaps 1991," said the Met Office's chief forecaster Frank Saunders.