Cold snap bites Italy

Snow, icy winds sweep the country

(ANSA) - Rome, January 5 - Civil protection authorities have advised Italians to prepare for extremely cold weather as what meteorologists have dubbed the 'Epiphany blizzard' threatens to bring snow and ice to much of the country from Thursday afternoon. People are being advised to limit travel as far as possible particularly in those central and southern regions that normally see little snowfall. Motorway management company Autostrade per l'Italia has also urged motorists to use the "greatest caution" and says it has already deployed over 600 anti-snow machines and 1,500 operators to prevent disruption to circulation. The cold snap is being caused in the first instance by a mass of extremely cold arctic air blowing down from northeast Europe, followed by northerly winds that will continue to channel icy air particularly towards those regions that are less protected by the Alps. Snow is forecast even in coastal and lowlying areas in many parts of the country, including the southern island region of Sicily. Temperatures are forecast to reach a minimum on Saturday before rising again slowly on Sunday. The main cities bracing for snow include Ancona, Pescara, Teramo, Chieti, Macerata, Termoli, Campobasso, L'Aquila, Foggia, Bari, Lecce, Matera, Potenza, Benevento, Avellino, Crotone, Cosenza and Catanzaro. Naples, Caserta, Lamezia Terme, Reggio Calabria, Palermo, Messina, Trapani and Catania may also get a dusting.
    In addition strong, icy winds are forecast on Friday in central and southern regions and on the islands.
    In Rome on Thursday, icy wind swept in from Russia and temperatures were expected to top out on Saturday at a high of just 3 degrees, with lows plummeting as far as minus 5 degrees.
    "These are temperatures we haven't seen in 20 years," said meteorologist Edoardo Ferrara.
    He said Rome may experience a few snowflakes from the Apennines, carried into the city on strong winds.
    Meanwhile in earthquake-hit Amatrice, snow has already started on Thursday and is expected to continue through the night and into Friday.