THE DATE 19th January 2006 is permanently etched in our minds. It is the day we experienced and survived the Arctic temperature of -30° Celsius. It was our first taste of Russian winter, and boy, did we get a deep freeze!
Back in October 2005, I had rejoiced at the first sight of snow, and then lamented at the lack of it in December. We had a fair bit of it then and the last snow of 2005 was on 30th December.
There was no sight of it again for more than two weeks and the first snow of 2006 finally came on 16th January with a temperature of -2°C. The following day (Tuesday, 17th January), the temperature drastically plunged to -20°C.
For the first time, Michelle’s school barred the children from playing outside, otherwise the school ruled that as long as the temperature was -15°C and above, the children HAD to go out to play during playtime, unless the child was taken ill or had doctor’s orders to stay indoors. Yes, such was the school rule to toughen up the children and got them immune to the cold. (Perhaps I should consider allowing my kids to play in the rain instead of gesturing them to come indoors the moment a few rain drops fall…)
That day, the traffic along Leninsky Prospekt was unusually heavy. From my kitchen windows, I saw an accident had occurred along LP about 3.30pm and a helicopter was deployed to drop off medical personnel.
The next day (18th January) continued to be a freezing day with temperature well below -20°C. I packed Michelle off to school as usual while hubby went to work too. A friend dropped by my apartment for some potatoes and carrots, such was the community we live within the building.
(Just to digress a little, I had two regular-sized refrigerators and a freezer then, pretty well-stocked most of the time, so there was ample food to last a while if we were ever snowed in. We quickly learnt during winter that even the balcony served as a fridge, and freezer too in the case when the temperature fell way below 0°C).
On that Thursday noon, three hours before school was over, I got a call from Michelle’s school. All kids had to be picked up as it was too cold to remain in school! The temperature was reportedly -30°C!
I later learnt from Michelle that out of her 10 daily bus mates to school, only three went to school that day, the other parents had the sense to keep their children at home due to the extreme frigid weather. While I was aware of the bitter cold, I didn’t want to appear paranoid or over-protective of my child. I also assumed it was “normal” as the snow and cold had not interrupted nor hampered the Russians from their daily activities (unlike in Washington DC where we’ve lived before, a mere 4-in snow had caused havoc in the city as the authorities were not so prepared to handle “too much” snow and schools would be closed to avoid unnecessary chaos.)
Just as well that the school declared ahead that it would be closed Friday.
As for hubby, Friday was still a working day and the temperature was forecasted at -28°C. Like his colleagues, he wasn’t sure whether to risk the hazardous drive to work or take the day off. The continued cold could adversely freeze up the car engine as well. He went eventually when a colleague came by to pick him up.
Scores of news reported the 19th January Arctic freeze, describing it as “the coldest winter in 26 years” or “the coldest winter in a generation”, and 18 deaths were reported in Moscow alone during that cold spells.
I am glad I survived to tell the tale 🙂 though I had not taken any photos of that historic freezing day (my mind was obviously frozen too that day!)
The situation improved over the days and by the end of January, we were out again at our favourite joint – Mega mall – some 45-minute drive to Moscow Ring Road or MKAD. Throughout our stay in Moscow, we spent many weekends at Mega where we bought our groceries at Auchan, lunched at IKEA or McD and window shopped at the over 250 outlets there.