One Man's Winter Forecast For Moscow: No Snow
Mayor will decide soon whether to go ahead with an ambitious plan to use cloud-seeding.
If you piled up all the snow that falls on Moscow during a normal winter, it would cover about 50 football fields to the height of a 32-story building.
This is the sort of statistic that Boris Korshunkov, the city official charged with keeping Moscow's roads passable year-round, just loves.
And, as he sat in his cramped municipal office one recent afternoon, watching the first real snow of winter fall steadily outside his darkening window, he reeled off other favorites.
Like the 4,184 trucks, snowplows, diggers, and other pieces of machinery he has at his disposal. Or the 300,000 tons of salt he has stashed at strategic spots, so as to melt the snow on the city's 2,800 miles of roads.
Marshalling his forces as Russia's legendary winter sets in, Mr. Korshunkov seems to relish the challenge of maintaining a proud tradition: Never in Moscow's modern history has the city's public transport system been incapacitated by snow.
Across town, at the headquarters of the national weather service, sits a man with a very different kind of plan. Valeri Stasenko, head of the Department of Active Influences, is trying to sell Mayor Yuri Luzhkov on a project to stop it snowing altogether.
Well, not quite altogether. But Dr. Stasenko and his team of airborne cloud seeders say they could easily prevent the five to 10 major snowstorms each year that drop about half of Moscow's annual snowfall.
Korshunkov is not exactly dismissive of the claim, but neither will he admit that his mechanical methods might be superseded. "Cloud seeding is the most progressive technology, of course," he acknowledges. "But it is never going to do away completely with the need for all the rest."
It would certainly save Mr. Luzhkov a lot of money, though.
Deploying all of Korshunkov's machinery costs nearly a million dollars a day, and even clearing snow away at top speed, it can take three days after a big storm to dump it all into the Moscow River or onto stretches of wasteland reserved for the purpose.
Let it snow ... on city's neighbors
Stasenko says it would cost only about $250,000 a day to mobilize the half dozen planes he would need to fly into oncoming cloudbanks and seed them with silver iodide, liquid nitrogen, or dry ice, encouraging the crystallization of snowflakes and snowfalls outside the city limits.
His team has already proved its mettle: Luzhkov hired them last month for the three days of festivities marking Moscow's 850th anniversary, and they made sure it didn't rain on his parade.
Nobody asked the people who live just west of Moscow what they thought about getting all of Moscow's rain that weekend, however, and nobody has asked them what they think about the prospect of an extra two feet of snow this winter.
Stasenko says blithely that farmers in the Moscow region will be delighted. "The more snow, the better the harvest," he claims.
And he recalls how useful his "weather modification" tactics were a few years ago when he made it snow more heavily than usual over watersheds that feed Moscow's reservoirs, thus increasing the city's water supplies.
Sergei Kulyutin, a senior agricultural official with the Moscow regional government, is not so sure.
Too much white stuff?
Winter crops certainly do benefit from snow cover, he agrees. But if they are smothered by more than five feet of snow - a distinct possibility if Stasenko has his way - they risk being damaged. And what about the massive acreage of greenhouses in the region, whose glass roofs were not designed to withstand excessive weights of snow?
"We've had trouble with the greenhouses in the past during very heavy snowstorms," Mr. Kulyutin says. "So we have reasons to object to these plans."
Regional officials are unlikely to get a chance to voice any objections, though. Altering the weather is just the sort of grandiose scheme that appeals to Moscow's ambitious mayor, and winter has come early this year.
"The snow season is approaching," Stasenko warns.
"We think the city government will decide on our proposal in the next week or so.