No-Snow Winter Puts Finnish 'Snow-How' on Ice
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.
But that was then. Now, Helsinki is experiencing uncharacteristically mild December temperatures, and only light dustings of snow have come and gone.
"At the beginning of December it was on average six degrees warmer than is usual for this time of year," meteorologist Pauli Jokinen told Agence France Presse.
He said the snow's no-show in the south of the country this year was partly due to 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 explained.
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 declared.
After last year's excesses, this year's lack of snow has stonewalled many businesses.
The balmy autumn forced the cancellation 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 cancelled because of the lack of snow. These are very big events for the area," explained Tarja Nikkanen, marketing manager for Levi Ski Resort.
Nikkanen pointed out though, that with about 25 centimeters (10 inches) 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 noted 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 added.
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 which 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, said Jaana Kurjenoja of the Finnish Trade Association.
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 declared.
"Skiing and slalom equipment have also suffered and sports retailers say they haven't been able to sell their winter goods," she added.
But 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 noted.
"During the last two winters the electronics retailers suffered because people were concerned about insufficient parking (in the snow-bound city) and how to get heavy equipment home," she explained.
"This year electronics sales are up," the trade tracker added.
While snow lovers and weather-dependent businesses look to the skies for salvation, officials in the city of Helsinki continue their winter preparations just in case.
"There's always a possibility that big changes could come ... there could be lots of snow in January and February, Jokinen said.
"All hope is definitely not lost," he added.