“Freak winds” in Moscow

Storm warnings were duly issued, but no one expected the hurricane to inflict so much damage in so little time. The BBC reports:

At least 11 people died when a severe thunderstorm hit the Russian capital Moscow, health officials say.

Hundreds of trees were toppled by the storm, and more than 50 people sought medical help…

The winds of up to 110 km/h (70 mph) were described by meteorologists as extremely rare for the city, and caused structural damage to buildings.

If the death toll of 11 is confirmed – and some officials give a lower figure – it would be the deadliest storm in the city for more than 100 years.

The latest reports have 105 people hospitalized.

The loss of life is tragic and incomprehensible. The city went back to normal quickly – one of the suburbs suffered a total power outage for an hour – except that eleven people did not survive the attack, killed by trees, upset bus stop shelters and other falling objects. Witnesses report that the disaster unfolded very fast – within minutes, a typical spring rain with thunder transmuted into a deadly hurricane.

Moscow suffered from a similar but weaker storm in 1998, at that time the most disastrous since the tornado of 1904. I feel that Moscow weather has become more volatile and less predictable in the past 15-20 years. Until last fall, I suspected the climate had become a little warmer on average and more continental – shorter springs, hotter summers but longer winters. However, when it snowed in October 2016 and the snow failed to melt so the cover stayed until spring, the warming hypothesis looked less convincing. To make things worse, the spring of 2017 has been unusually cold, with snowfalls in mid-May. It’s hard to see a clear trend in all this.

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