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Mayor's pledge to spare Moscow snow fails

Sure enough, there is snow in Moscow. And the locals aren't displeased about it.

A woman, walking under heavy snowfall, is seen through the windscreen of a car in central Moscow, Dec. 21, 2009. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

MOSCOW, Russia — It was an odd proposal, to say the least.

As Russians buckled down for the long, hard winter that has characterized life here for centuries, Yury Luzhkov, the longtime mayor of Moscow, decided he’d had enough of snow.

It was messy, it was cumbersome and it was expensive to deal with. So he did what any logical man would do: He banned it from falling on the Russian capital.

"You know how every year on City Day and Victory Day we create the weather? Well, we should do the same with snow," Luzhkov said in September.

The plan would expand the cloud seeding program that the city rolls out for all major holidays to ensure that no rain, well, rains on the parades. Jets take to the skies, spraying silver iodide into coming clouds, ensuring that all precipitation falls before it reaches the capital.

Ever mindful of the Kremlin’s eagerness to promote measures to combat the ongoing financial crisis, Luzhkov presented the plot as a cost saving measure.

“It will make financial sense,” he said. After the city council approved the measure, city officials put the annual savings at $4 million. (Each year, the city spends about $10 million on the 5,000 heavy trucks and 50,000 workers that regularly attempt to clean the snow off Moscow’s roads.)

The experiment was due to start in mid-November. Now it’s late December and the city is covered in snow mounds and slush. What happened?

Getting an answer to that question is no easy feat. No one seemed to want to talk to me about it — not the city government, not the City Department for Municipal Services, not even the Federal Service of Hydrometeorology and Monitoring of the Surrounding Environment.

Perhaps they’re a bit embarrassed. The program was, after all, hailed in the international press as one of the biggest examples of weather control ever, with some likening it to pigs flying and others (ahem, I think it was me) saying Mayor Michael Bloomberg might consider cloud seeding to save funds in New York City.

The most lucid explanation has come from Valery Dyadyuchenko, the deputy head of the above-mentioned Federal Service of Hydrometeorology and Monitoring of the Surrounding Environment, better known by its Russian acronym, RusGidroMet.

The problem, he told state-owned newspaper Rossisskaya Gazeta, was twofold. First, the construction of new skyscrapers has disrupted radar capacity at the service’s headquarters, impairing its ability to spot coming clouds. That problem will be fixed by next winter, he said.