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Europe waits for winter to start

MOSCOW -- Scattered flurries teased Moscow on Tuesday afternoon with the promise of a real winter, the birthright of a city whose people take pride in trudging through snow and in ice fishing and cross-country skiing in white countryside beyond t...

MOSCOW -- Scattered flurries teased Moscow on Tuesday afternoon with the promise of a real winter, the birthright of a city whose people take pride in trudging through snow and in ice fishing and cross-country skiing in white countryside beyond the outer beltway.

The winter of 2006 has yet to arrive, however, and Muscovites are deeply discombobulated. "I want snow. I want the New Year's feeling," said Viktoria Makhovskaya, a street vendor who sells gloves and mittens. "This is a disgusting winter. I don't like it at all."

Moscow is not alone in the unexpected warmth -- it stretches across the continent.

Preliminary data from the Met Office, Britain's national weather service, and the University of East Anglia indicate that 2006 has been the warmest year in Britain since record-keeping of weather conditions began in central England in 1659.

Trees are sprouting leaves in Switzerland. And low-altitude ski resorts across the Alps look more like springtime meadows.

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The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warns in a report this month "that climate change poses serious risks to the snow reliability of Alpine ski areas, and consequently to the regional economies that depend upon winter tourism."

Up to 80 million people visit Alpine resorts each year, and they are a key contributor to the local economies, the report says.

"The Alps are particularly sensitive to climate change and recent warming there has been roughly three times the global average," the report says. On average, 90 percent of 666 medium to large Alpine ski areas now have adequate snow cover for at least 100 days a year. The remaining 10 percent are already operating under marginal conditions.

In Moscow, the streets have been stubbornly dry and gray in recent weeks. Parks, fields and forests are carpeted in green and sprouting mushrooms. At the Moscow Zoo, the brown bears are awake and moody. And some birds, zoo spokeswoman Elena Mendosa said, "are making love in ponds because they apparently believe spring has come."

Without snow to brighten the short dark days, "people are beginning to feel depressed," said Andrei Babin, a Moscow psychotherapist.

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