Rome in snow. Credit: Georgios

Very low temperatures & snow across parts of Europe

9 January 2009 00:00 UTC

Rome in snow. Credit: Georgios
Rome in snow. Credit: Georgios

Freezing temperatures, combined with heavy snow in the first 10 days of January 2009, caused travel problems throughout Europe and was responsible for the death of several people.

Last Updated

09 June 2022

Published on

08 January 2009

By Cecilie Wettre and Jochen Kerkmann (EUMETSAT)

On Monday 5 January, a slow-moving cold front moved across Central Europe, covering parts of Europe with several inches of snow.

On Tuesday 6 January, when a cyclone formed over the Gulf of Genoa, the snowfalls reached Northern Italy. In France and the United Kingdom, freezing temperatures ranged from -5° to -10°C. The frigid temperatures resulted in several school closures across France and the United Kingdom, with forecasters from both countries predicting that the cold would stay for several days.

Traffic at many European airports was disrupted; north of Paris, Monday's heavy snowstorm forced Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport to cancel most of its flights, while Milan's Malpensa airport in northern Italy remained closed Wednesday morning, as heavy snowfall prevented airport staff from reaching work.

On Wednesday Germany experienced the coldest weather in more than 20 years, with overnight temperatures dropping below -26°C in some places. Railway commuters experienced delays across the country, since train tracks and carriages had frozen overnight. On the motorways, icy conditions prevailed and lorries were brought to a halt as diesel fuel froze, causing tailbacks.

Other parts of Europe were also affected by the cold weather conditions. At -21°C, Belgium measured its lowest temperatures in a decade in the town of Ernage, between Brussels and Namur, while in some parts of central Romania the temperature plunged to -31°C.

The top image below features the world-famous catherdral in Milan covered by 20–30cm of snow, while the image below shows the corresponding Meteosat-9 HRV image. The entire Western Po Valley up to the Garda lake appears snow covered, with larger rivers standing out as dark lines (e.g. the Ticino river). The Snow RGB product gives an overview of the snow situation in Central Europe on 10 January 2009, 12:00 UTC. The main application of this RGB product is the detection of fog/low clouds and snow during day-time. In this colour scheme snow appears red because of the strong absorption in the NIR1.6 and IR3.9 channels (no green and blue), while fog / low clouds appear white.

Exceptionally low temperatures and snow across Central and Western Europe
Figure 1: Meteosat-9 Channel 12 (HRV), 9 January 2009, 09:00 UTC. Large Area
Exceptionally low temperatures and snow across Central and Western Europe
Figure 2: MSG blended snow map from 7 January 2009. Source: NOAA/NESDIS
Exceptionally low temperatures and snow across Central and Western Europe
Figure 3: MODIS RGB image from 9 January 2009 10:35 UTC. Source: NASA
Exceptionally low temperatures and snow across Central and Western Europe
Figure 4: Metop-A AVHRR RGB image from 12 Jan 2009

Additional content

Meteosat-9 HRV image from 8 Jan 2009 (12:00 UTC)
Snow-covered Alps and Italy
Snow-covered Germany
Europa, ein Wintermärchen (Spiegel)