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Snow falls in Rome, as frigid weather grips Europe

Visitors to the Colosseum in Rome threw snowballs and built snowmen on Monday. Roads and airports were snarled.ANGELO CARCONI/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

ROME — As temperatures fell to their lowest level this winter across much of Europe, snow made a rare appearance in Rome on Monday, paralyzing the Italian capital for hours, hobbling the public transit system, and snarling air, roads, and rail traffic.

The army was enlisted to help spread salt and to shovel slush from the city’s streets, where dozens of cars had become stranded.

With schools in the city closed for the day and hundreds of shops closed, many Romans took the unexpected blanket of white in cheerful stride, taking to the streets to record the snowfall on social media and to wage boisterous snowball fights, including one in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.

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People tobogganed in Rome’s public parks on makeshift sleds — garbage bags appeared to be a preferred material — and a few hardy individuals strapped on skis to slalom in the Circus Maximus, once the site of chariot races.

A Siberian weather front nicknamed the Beast from the East sent temperatures plunging and brought snow and icy conditions to many European countries in recent days.

In Italy, the weather front was dubbed Burian, a play on the name for a gelid wind from the Siberian steppe, and temperatures have dropped well below their seasonal average.

Snow in Rome is rare. It last really fell here in 2012, after a hiatus of nearly 30 years. On Monday, the city awakened under snow 2 to 6 inches deep.

Freezing temperatures expected overnight prompted officials to close Rome schools on Tuesday for a second day and warn of more traffic and train chaos due to the ice that was already forming on slick cobblestone sidewalks and streets.

In Lithuania, temperatures plunged to as low as minus 11 degrees in some places, causing the deaths of at least three people over the weekend, the Associated Press reported. Hospitals in Lithuania and Latvia reported a rise in hypothermia and frostbite cases.

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Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s car skidded off the road in a snowstorm north of Stockholm and smashed into a railing, but he was unhurt, the AP said.

German forecasters reported a record low for this winter of minus 16 degrees on the Zugspitze mountain in the Alps. Moscow, as well, recorded its coldest night this winter, with the mercury dipping to nearly minus 4 Sunday night.

The severe cold is hitting Europe at a time when the Arctic is experiencing record heat, with repeated readings above freezing in the dead of winter.

“In the context of global warming, we are seeing extreme events,” said Massimiliano Fazzini, a professor of climatology at the University of Camerino and Ferrara, citing snow and bitter cold in Rome linked to Siberian weather fronts. “We have to get used to them and learn to adapt.”

Luca Bergamo, the deputy mayor of Rome, said that officials were managing the emergency well, all things considered. “Obviously, the city isn’t equipped to deal with this kind of event,” he said on Monday.

But by morning, City Hall had deployed 190 vehicles and more than 1,500 people to help clear the streets, he said.

Schools, parks, and cemeteries were closed Monday, and officials said they would remain closed as long as the emergency continued. The Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum — the city’s top tourist draws — were also closed.

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Several subway and train stations were kept open Sunday night to provide temporary refuge to homeless people, and blankets were distributed.

Adriana Di Carlo, a civil servant, said she had gone to work Monday though some colleagues had not. Despite having to wait a long time for a bus home, she was excited about the snow. “It’s a spectacle, enchanting, surreal,” she said.