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Moscow's mayor to use air force in his war on snow

October 18, 2009|Ben Judah | Judah writes for the Associated Press.

MOSCOW — Moscow's mercurial mayor, famous for seeding clouds to prevent rain during parades, is escalating his war on weather with plans to slash this year's snowfall by one-fifth in the Russian capital.

Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's office will marshal the Russian air force and air defense systems to intercept advancing storm fronts and hit them with dry ice and silver iodine particles, city officials reportedly said this week.

The idea is to reduce the amount of snow that clogs Moscow's frigid streets and costs the city millions to manage.

Instead, the snow would be dumped on poor villages and satellite towns far from Moscow city limits -- which Luzhkov reportedly suggested would help crops in surrounding regions.

The initiative could cost $6 million, but the city hopes to save $10 million in snow removal, Moscow public works chief Andrei Tsybin said Wednesday, according to the state-run ITAR-Tass news agency and other Russian media. City officials declined to comment Friday on details of the plan.

Moscow has been hard hit by the recession, and city officials suggested the anti-snow effort -- to run from mid-November to March -- would help Moscow bring its budget under control.

Philip Brown, cloud physics research manager at the British national weather service, suggested the idea is relatively untested.

"A lot of work has been done with cloud seeding in terms of trying to enhance rainfall, but I'm not aware of any studies in the scientific literature that have been done for the purpose of snow limiting," he said.

Moscow -- which sees snowfalls of more than 2 feet -- keeps a mammoth system in place to deal with it, including more than 50,000 street sweepers, more than 5,800 trucks and 27 snow-melting incinerators. The city also sprays chemicals and grit over streets to aid traffic, and according to one of Moscow's many urban legends, dogs occasionally die after licking slush off their paws.

But there has been opposition to the anti-snow plan from environmentalists and officials from the province that rings Moscow.

"We'll need extra money for removing the snow. Where will we get it from?" Pavel Lyzhkov, a provincial public works official, told the newspaper Izvestia. He also questioned the environmental effects, saying cloud-seeding operations over the summer had turned cucumbers yellow.

A World Wildlife Fund worker was concerned the effort might end up killing animals. "This technology is still in it's infancy -- it should be handled with care," Alexei Kokorin said.

Greenpeace Russia activist Alexey Kisilev predicted serious environmental damage, noting the "huge outdated aircraft" to be used in the effort would "produce lots of greenhouse gases."

One political analyst called the plan a populist measure designed to strengthen the eroding political position of Luzkhov, who has been mayor of Russia's capital since 1992.

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