Deadly winter storm wreaks havoc in Greece, Turkey

·5 min read
Deadly winter storm wreaks havoc in Greece, Turkey
(AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

A potent winter storm rocked areas from Greece to Turkey and unleashed a rare snowfall that left at least two people dead and thousands stranded in several major metro areas as temperatures tumbled below freezing.

Snow began across portions of Greece Sunday and quickly spread across the Aegean islands, located to the south and east of mainland Greece. Snow then pushed into Turkey where it wreaked havoc in Istanbul and forced the city's airport to close on Monday. Late Monday, thundersnow was reported at Athens and Souda, Greece, as well as Istanbul, Turkey.

Major roadways and highways that had been closed around Istanbul were reopened on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported, citing the country's Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoglu.

The AP, citing the state-run Anadolu Agency, reported that at least one death was reported in Turkey, while another fatality was blamed on the storm in Greece. Turkish authorities said a 34-year-old man had died in heavy snow after attempting to reach his village in the province of Amasya. In Greece, a 60-year-old homeless man was found dead in the city of Thessaloniki after he reportedly refused to head to a nearby shelter.

Istanbul recorded 11 inches (28 cm) of snow in just 24 hours on Monday, bringing the city's two-day snow total to 13.4 inches (34 cm). The heavy snow forced the closure of Istanbul Airport on Monday and also caused a roof of one of the airport's cargo terminals to collapse, AFP reported. The airport is considered to be the busiest airport in all of Europe, according to AFP.

Istanbul, home to nearly 15.5 million people, is not a complete stranger to winter weather, but snowfalls of this magnitude are definitely outliers, according to forecasters.

January and February are typically the city's coldest months of the year, with average high temperatures in the middle 40s F (7-8 C) and low temperatures in the middle 30s F (1-2 C). The last snowfall the city encountered was back during February of 2021 when just over 7 inches (about 18 cm) of snow fell over the course of about a week.

This week, almost double that amount of snow fell in just two days and triggered major issues.

The snow came down heavier, and very quickly, in other portions of the country where up to 31 inches (80 cm) of snow fell, according to the AP.

Heavy snowfall left motorists trapped on a highway in Düzce, Turkey, as their cars became buried in snow. Motorists were forced to make the choice between spending the night in their vehicles or abandoning them to reach home or any functional public transportation on foot, according to the AP.

On Monday, more than 4,500 people were stranded as a result of the storm, according to the Turkey Disaster and Emergency Authority. Emergency crews delivered thousands of containers of food and drinks to the stranded, according to Reuters.

Snow even fell in locations that had not encountered the wintry precipitation in decades. Snowfall was reported in portions of Turkey's southwestern region and along the country's Mediterranean coast. Antalya, Turkey, located along the Mediterranean coast, recorded its first snowfall in 29 years, according to the AP.

Turkey isn't the only Mediterranean nation dealing with Mother Nature's wrath early this week. In neighboring Greece, snow also dealt the country a significant blow.

Totals quickly climbed across southern and central Greece on Sunday as snowflakes fell in a frenzy of activity. Snow even buried the Greek capital of Athens -- a city that does not receive regular bouts of wintry weather.

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Picturesque scenes began to play out on Sunday across the ancient city as snow started to coat major landmarks. As snow continued to fall on Monday, webcams pointed at some of the area's most popular attractions, like the Acropolis, and showed near whiteout conditions at times.

Even heavier snow fell just north of the capital city, where the higher terrain typically helps to enhance snow development, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tyler Roys. When air flows up higher terrain, it is forced to rise and become unstable, allowing for increased precipitation.

Snow created treacherous travel conditions for parts of the country as plenty more powder fell on Monday. Local authorities warned the public to limit outdoor movements to only essential travel through Tuesday, according to the AP.

More than 46,000 school classes across Greece were held online through Tuesday as schools shutter from the storm, the AP reported. In addition, Greece's Ministry of Health was forced to close COVID-19 vaccination clinics across the Attic Peninsula and the nearby island of Evia through Tuesday.

On Monday, reports surfaced of hundreds of vehicles stranded for several hours on Attiki Odos, a privately owned toll highway that runs across the northern edge of Athens. As of Tuesday morning, rescue crews were still working to free about 200-300 drivers that remained trapped on the roadway overnight, according to the AP.

AccuWeather forecasters say many areas in the center of Athens can record up to 6 inches (15 cm) of snow by Wednesday, with higher accumulations in the outskirts of the city.

In the last 22 years, only six snowfall events have been recorded in January at the Athens climate site, according to Roys. The last time the Greek capital had a significant snow event was back in February 2021 when the city was buried under 4 inches (10 cm) of snow.

The February 2021 event dumped heavy snow around the Athens area and brought down trees and power lines which left portions of the city without power for days.

Forecasters say the storm slamming the greater region is expected to largely dissipate by Wednesday.

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