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Heavy snow in Paris? Hardly

Ludovic Marin, AFP | A snowman stands in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on February 8, 2018.

Paris ground to a standstill this week after the heaviest snowfall in nearly 30 years, but was it really all that?


Paris hit by “heavy snow”, proclaimed CNN, ABC News, UK newspapers The Telegraph and the Evening Standard, and a host of other media outlets.

Not to sound like the current occupant of the White House, but this New Yorker is calling those screamers Fake News and the Parisian response to the white powder covering the French capital, well, sad.

Yes, it’s true that snow rarely manages to get a foothold on the ground here and is normally – quite fittingly – lovely and never in excess. But Tuesday’s snow stuck and was abundant enough to allow for more than a few impromptu snowball fights or batailles de boules de neige, a phrase not often uttered by Parisian schoolchildren.

But shutting down public transport? Closing the Eiffel Tower? Puh-lease. I’ve seen calmer responses in desert nations. Literally. When it snowed in Cairo in 2013 for the first time in a century, Twitter was rife with pictures of snow sphinxes and pyramids, but the schools stayed open and people made it in to work.

Tuesday’s snowfall in Paris was between 12 and 15 centimetres. That’s less than six inches. The Ministry of the Interior called the situation “exceptional”.

Exceptional? Seriously? In February, 2006, a blizzard dumped nearly 30 inches (76cm) of snow on New York City. That is exceptional. As was Moscow on Saturday, when it got 15 inches of snow in a single day, breaking a record set in 1957. A paltry six inches? Unexceptional.

I am far from the only one bemused by the French overreaction to the latest weather event. “How can 15cm of snow cause so much travel chaos around Paris?” wondered a headline in The Local, an online newspaper owned, perhaps not insignificantly, by Swedes. Several news sites, including the French version of the Huffington Post, published a video of a Canadian couple dying with laughter over the French evening news. “You can see the rails!” one of them exclaimed during a segment on train delays.

Needs more salt

For a country famed for its delicate flavouring of food… well, they seem to be under salting. The steps to my Metro station were sprinkled with the stuff on Monday, but not for the Tuesday morning commute, when the snow was actually falling.

Le Parisien newspaper reported Wednesday that 34 salt trucks had dumped 800 tonnes of salt on half of Paris’s 1,200 km of thoroughfares, but the roadways around the capital were not as well tended. Highways in the greater Paris region were so gnarled that as many as 2,000 commuters were stuck in place. Several hundred took refuge in one of the 76 emergency shelters but hundreds of others spent Tuesday evening in their cars. The evacuations continued into Wednesday morning.

Another 700 people slept at Austerlitz and Montparnasse train stations, and some 230 at Orly airport. Flight delays at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports were due as much to employees not being able to get to work as they were to de-icing operations.

The government was ready with an explanation. “When you salt the road, the salt is effective for up to three or four centimetres of snow, but above three or four centimetres the salt doesn’t work,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.

Uh… snowploughs anyone? Paris reportedly does possess a few, but they were far from visible on Tuesday as the snow fell.

Commuters were encouraged to leave their cars at home on Wednesday – posing quite the conundrum with fewer than half the regional commuter trains running and not a single bus in the whole city. On the other hand, patchy train service may well be better than being stuck in the 460 miles of traffic jams that were recorded Tuesday night.

I love Paris in the... snow

The snow was a hassle for a lot of people, but like many things French, it was beautiful. As in the spring and when the sun breaks through the clouds after the rain, Paris in the snow is sublime – and social media networks are filled with the pictures to prove it.

After the chaos, Griveaux promised that “lessons would be learned”. The Parisian public will have to hope its city officials are quick learners: another 3 inches is expected to fall tomorrow morning.

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