Moscow to Fight Winter's Snow with Air Force

Russian capital's mayor announces plan to keep snow clouds at bay this winter.

October 19, 2009, 7:35 AM

MOSCOW, Oct. 19, 2009— -- Moscow's infamous snowy winters may be a bit tamer this year, thanks to its weather-altering mayor.

Yury Luzkhov intends this winter to enlist the Russian Air Force to help disperse approaching clouds that normally drop several feet of powder on the Russian capital. If "very big and serious snowfall" approaches between Nov. 15 and March 15, the Air Force will fly out and spray dry ice, cement particles or silver iodine into the clouds, creating crystallization that leads to precipitation.

Moscow's public works chief Andrei Tsybin told the Itar-Tass news agency that the grandiose plan would cost the cash-strapped city about $6 million but claims it would be cheaper than the $10 million the city normally spends digging out from under the several feet of snow that falls each year.

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Luzkhov enjoys playing Mother Nature. In 2002, he proposed reversing the flow of the River Ob to help irrigate Russia's Central Asian neighbors, which scientists declared unfeasible. Twice a year, on Moscow's City Day in September and May's Victory Day, the clouds are kept at bay so that the processions and columns of tanks can parade about the city's streets under clear blue skies.

Last month, Luzhkov suggested cloud-seeding during the winter for the first time, arguing that it would not only save Moscow money and headaches but help crops in the rural areas around the capital."What if we force this snow to fall beyond Moscow?" he asked, according to The Moscow Times. "The Moscow Region will have more water, bigger harvests, while we will have less snow."

The Moscow Region -- a separate district around the capital -- isn't welcoming the idea, and the local ecology minister said the plan must be studied by ecologists before it goes forward.

"The population of Moscow Region is concerned by this issue. We have received a lot of messages," said Ecology Minister Alla Kachan, according to the RIA news service.

Those messages may be coming from high places. Some of Moscow's powerful officials live outside the city and would have to navigate snowier roads to get to work.

"We'll need additional money for removing the snow. Where will we get it?" Pavel Lykov in the Region's public utilities and transport department told the Izvestia newspaper. "When they prevent clouds in Moscow in the summer, the cucumbers turn yellow. … The question is: is it safe?"

Tampering with Nature Sparks Protest

Luzhkov should think twice about interfering with the climate on this scale says Greenpeace Russia's Alexei Kiselev.

"People are calling us, people are writing us" by the thousands, he told ABC News. "From year to year, [Luzhkov's] ideas get more and more crazy."

Kiselev, who campaigns against toxic environmental issues, points to several ways the plan would affect the environment. First, he said, Moscow needs snow to protect its green spaces. Also, the "outdated" planes to be used and the chemicals sprayed are fundamentally harmful.

The environmental activist said this idea smacks of a ploy to lift Luzhkov's sagging popularity and said he expected the plan to die under review by a governmental body that would strike it down because of its environmental and logistical ramifications.

"Nobody knows what he's thinking. He can't even explain his ideas," said Kiselev. "If he's smart enough, he won't go through with it."

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