Winter wobble sends snow to Algiers and gives Britain early taste of spring

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The Independent Online
THE HOLIDAY island of Majorca has been chilled by air from the frozen wastes of Finland in the past week as Europe's climate has turned upside down.

Two opposing weather systems have acted as a giant transcontinental pump, blowing an icy blast from the Arctic down to the Mediterranean while pushing up warm air to the British Isles and the eastern Atlantic.

Southern Italy, Greece, Spain and even Algeria have suffered snowstorms, Britain has been mild and Iceland has been basking in unseasonable warmth.

Finland began it all last week, when the country's lowest temperature for a century - minus 51.3C - was recorded at the Lapland town of Kittila, 100 miles inside the Arctic Circle.

It was so cold, according to a UK Met Office correspondent, that car tyres with low pressure in them were freezing in a square shape, so that vehicles still able to run were bumping along "like rabbits".

Kittila in midwinter normally experiences temperatures of about minus 35C. The cold had grown so intense because north winds bringing air from the Arctic were succeeded by clear skies and stillness, which further froze the air column.

Much of Europe felt the Kittila chill when low pressure systems over the Balkans drew the freezing air down over Germany, Poland and central Europe into northern Italy and into places normally noted for winter sunshine. Temperatures started tumbling.

Cagliari in Sardinia recorded a low of minus 2.8C, half a degree off its record. Catania in Sicily recorded minus 2.4C (normal temperature about 8C for the time of year) and Bari in Italy's South-east was down to 1.4C (it should be 10C).

In Spain, Madrid recorded minus 8C, against a normal temperature of about 2C (its record low is minus 10C), and Majorca suffered its heaviest snowfall for 96 years.

The city of Algiers had its first snow for two decades and blizzards closed Salonika airport in Greece.

It was a different story on Europe's western edge, where two areas of high pressure, east and west of Britain, have pulled up warm air from the direction of the Canaries.

North-west Europe has been much milder and the town of Akureyri in northern Iceland has been enjoying temperatures of 9.5C - about eight degrees higher than normal.

However, don't put away the winter woollies just yet. Normal service is expected to resume this weekend with the Mediterranean warming up and colder weather returning to Britain.