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Snow joke... Moscow mayor wants blanket ban to save cash

It defeated Napoleon and Hitler, but the legendary Russian winter is facing a formidable new challenge from the Mayor of Moscow, who wants to stop it from snowing.

Yuri Luzhkov has said that snow should be banished from Moscow in winter to save money and improve life in the city. He claimed that farmers outside the capital would enjoy more abundant harvests if his cloud-seeding programme was adopted.

Mr Luzhkov noted that city authorities already used such techniques to break up rain clouds and guarantee good weather on important holidays, such as the annual May 9 parade celebrating victory in the Second World War. "Why don't we keep this snow outside the Moscow city limits?" he said. "For the countryside, this means more moisture and bigger harvests. And for us, less snow."

Russian newspapers reported that the idea had provoked panic among residents in outlying regions, worried that they would be flooded out of their homes. Vladimir Litvishkov, a land management official, told reporters: "On those holidays when they clear the clouds over Moscow the surplus precipitation becomes a problem for us."

A programme to manage the weather would cost only a third of the amount spent on snowploughs and round-the-clock clearance operations.

City authorities send 2,500 snowploughs into action to clear snow, and employ an army of 50,000 workers to clear Moscow's streets. As many as a dozen cargo aircrafts are sent into the skies over Moscow before major public events, scattering silver iodide, liquid nitrogen and cement powder into rain clouds to encourage precipitation.

However, scientists warned that cloud-seeding throughout the winter could have serious environmental consequences.

There are other risks: a 25kg (55lb) bag of cement crashed through the roof of a Moscow home last year during a cloud-seeding operation. Officials said the bag had "failed to pulverise completely at high altitude".

Winter in Moscow typically lasts from October to March, although recent years have seen unusually mild weather. A sudden snowfall in October 2007 resulted in 3,200 car accidents in two days. (©The Times, London)

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