Blizzards, winds wipe out holiday fun

The weather mess that began on New Year’s day with the thawing of December’s last heavy snow returned with a vengeance this weekend, as blizzards and strong winds prevailed over all of Latvia, dumping onto roads and sidewalks a hazardous mix of ice and slush and reducing visibility to 500-900 meters – enough to delay most air travel at Riga International Airport (RIX) on Sunday. The holidays were further marred by news of a lost kiteboarder blown into the sea off the horn of Kolka on Saturday afternoon after the winds kept him from getting back to shore.

While rescue efforts involving the state Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD), Coast Guard ships and a helicopter had to be called off by early Sunday evening due to the continued heavy wind gusts and two-meter high choppy waves at sea, numerous volunteers onshore – both friends and strangers alike –  vowed to continued their search all night long for the lost athlete, identified as Renārs Mileiko, using quadracycles and other vehicles at hand.

Otherwise, the winds pushed waters from the Gulf of Riga into the headwaters of the Daugava River, and levels rose over banks as well in the often flood-troubled lower Ogre, Gauja, Aiviekste and Liela Jugla rivers, however not to critical levels. Nevertheless, local government authorities and Environment Ministry officials were monitoring the situation closely in case of a sudden worsening of conditions.

Despite a relatively fewer number of emergency calls for downed power lines and other wind-related mishaps, road traffic conditions around the land were largely rendered miserable on all highways and secondary roads.

Even the suspension Vanšu bridge spanning from Old Town Riga across the Daugava to Ķīpsala had to be closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic because icicles were coming down from its heights, dislodged by the winds, damaging vehicles and threatening the people below. It had been ten years since the last time weather conditions became too inclement to keep the bridge open.

The cyclone that brought the blustery precipitation continued its path to the southwest, meaning that winds were forecast to keep up their gusting at 25 meters per second on the coasts and 16-21 meters per second inland overnight into Monday before finally dying down.

However, more falling snow and wet snow was forecast to keep up into Monday, causing additional accumulations of 6-8 centimeters and icy conditions throughout.

Also, the forming of river ice was predicted to begin again on Monday, meaning that the ice floes already stuck and causing floodplains to fill up would remain in place, threatening possibly greater problems in the near future.

Meteorologists have called for a deeper freeze to settle in beginning January 5 and lasting until January 8.  

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