Snow in February
1st February and winter arrived with a vengeance. Just 2 days earlier we had been basking in spring like conditions then over night 30cm of snow fell and kept on falling. Unfortunately during the night a layer had frozen and the combined weight collapsed all our pergolas, reducing them to twisted wreaks. The trees we’d had trimmed after the last dollop were again bent over and looking sorry for themselves. The electric was off for 12 hours, so no central heating but having the wood-burning cooker in the kitchen kept us snug.
The news said this was the worst snow nationally for over 27 years. The trains stopped from Milan to Sardinia, the road was closed on the coast from Rome to Pisa, lorries were taken off the motorway at Milan as there was just 1 lane open each way to Rome and they couldn’t afford a lorry breaking down and blocking things off totally.
The cats were not amused. The looks they gave us when we opened the door and they expected to race out across green lawns only to be greeted by sparkling white cold clearly said “this is your fault”. They about faced and stomped back indoors. Cats are funny. Dogs revel in the white stuff, cats tip-toe gingerly across the surface, fortunately the ice supported their weight or all we’d be able to see would be tails and ear tips of Mach1 who is a compact sized cat.
By Saturday and two more falls of snow we were firmly entrenched. Rome’s mayor closed schools and public offices and the roads were full of abandoned cars. A state of emergency was declared as house holds in some parts had been without power for 70 hours and people were at risk of freezing to death. Fortunately we had plenty of wood, frozen supplies and dried milk powder but cat food was going to be a problem. Searching the Internet we discovered lots of recipes to make cat biscuits and cat food from chicken, beef and stock so that crisis was averted. Looking at the long term forecast we had more snow yet to come and very low temperatures with no thaw even suggested before the 18th. We reckoned that it would take at least 10 days to thaw sufficiently for us to escape and that would mean an entire month cocooned indoors. A friend phoned to say that if things got dire there was a system in place where people had volunteered to haul supplies, by tractor, those stranded. It was comforting to know.
The cats hated the home made food and refused to do anything more than sniff at it and then attempt to turn the bowl over and bury it, so much for my cooking. After 10 days trapped we were running low on cat food and some other essentials and some good friends, who were in the midst of moving with the van at their door, came to our rescue. Fortunately our neighbours had organised a JCB to remove most of the snow from the gravel road but it was still only passable with care by a 4 wheeled drive vehicle with snow and ice tyres, tractors or Apes, we opted to walk down muffled up to the tops of our heads as a bitter wind was blowing. We were shocked by the damage we saw enroute, trees over, limbs fallen whole banks of mixed bramble and bush flattened.
On the 10th it all started again with arctic blasts and Etna exploding, all go isn’t it, and it didn’t stop until the 13th. The South experienced its first real drop of snow that paralysed the areas effected as they have no snow equipment to speak of as it never snows there. Farm animals and the wild ones were under threat of starvation as supplies were running low or they just couldn’t get them to them. In the North more used to these conditions they were managing but suffered snow and ice in greater extremes. Experts began predicting about all the fruit and olive trees being killed off by the prolonged bellow freezing temperatures and 30 years for farming to recover is being suggested. Naturally this is the best excuse to put up prices, panic shop for those who can get out ( 1 kg of toms for 6 euros) and a roaring trading in snow chains triple their normal price and Chinese ones that disintegrate. The police are having a great time of it if the news is to be believed.
We, including the cats, just didn’t believe it, snow up to 4 feet deep and the trees were bent double in places, just thinking about going out to recover wood was enough to freeze the blood and doing it wasn’t amusing at all. Still we were warn and had plenty to eat, so we resigned ourselves to being house bound until the end of the month by which time we hoped the thaw would have arrived and taken effect. The thaw started on the 18th when the sun came out and the temperatures crept up slightly. The following day the temperature outside hit 17c and the snow retreated so fast we could see our quadrangle and the puddles the melt was leaving behind. The 20th and our pool emerged and the cistern, along with tiles that had cracked off the sides but that’s just time and a little effort to repair. On the 21st we could move the car and open the gates although our drive was a mud slide according to our postman who ventured up to the gates for the first time in a month. We decided to stay put until the end of the month when the mud had dried out and it wasn’t so risky to go anywhere. In the meantime legislation was changed talk about bolting the stable door....) ALL vehicles must have either snow tyres fitted or chains available in the vehicle from 15th Oct to 15 April naturally this is the best excuse to put up prices by 4x but the police quickly put a stop to that. Our car can't take chains as it has alloy wheels but there’s an 80 euro on the spot fine and 3 penalty points! However we could do the Italian thing and buy cheap snow chains, around 30 euros a set, to just keep in the car as per requirements and if there's any snow just not go out.
The thaw started on the 18th and by the 24th we were able to get out and about again, then the clearing up began.
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Michael & Peggy Hunt moved from Pembrokeshire to Italy two years ago. They now live on the Tuscan / Umbrian border in Locanda Delle Rose among 300 olive trees, enquiring neighbours and over-familiar wildlife. "Oddly, it is not so different from Pembrokeshire at all, " they say. "We have felt at home from the very beginning. "