ROME >> Snow made a rare appearance in Rome today, paralyzing the Italian capital for hours, hobbling the public transport system, and snarling air, road and rail transportation. 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 shuttered, 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.
People tobogganed in Rome’s public parks on makeshift sleds — garbage bags appeared to be a preferred, if potentially painful, material — and a few hardy individuals strapped on skis to slalom in the Circus Maximus, once the site of chariot races.
Ingrid Nutty and Anthony Awy, who were visiting from London, were bemused that a snowy day would make the news.
“We’re used to it,” Nutty said.
Awy noted that the forecast had predicted the cold weather. “We came prepared,” he said, clapping his gloved hands.
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 a layer of snow 1 1/2 to 6 inches deep, depending on the neighborhood.
The cold front has struck Europe as 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 today. 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 today, 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.
Several subway and train stations were kept open Sunday night to provide temporary refuge to homeless people, and 1,000 blankets were distributed, Bergamo said. Another temporary shelter was available for homeless people with animals.
Adriana Di Carlo, a civil servant, said she had gone to work today though some of her 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.