Icy streets and packed metros: Madrid digs out from historic snowstorm in midst of pandemic


MADRID — So the COVID-19 pandemic is making your life complicated? Hold my extra-frosty cerveza, was the message Storm Filomena delivered to Spain over the weekend.

Filomena dumped around 20 inches of snow on the Spanish capital Madrid between Friday evening and Saturday — this in a city where any snowfall is rare. As of Monday, the capital region faces several days of plunging temperatures, with many streets still covered in an inch or more of ice and slush and hardened mounds of snow, with Filomena having moved on to other parts of the country. Several people are dead.

Snow from Storm Filomena begins to fall on Madrid’s Calle Mayor on Jan. 8.


The threat of a blizzard in such a sun-kissed country initially seemed rather far-fetched to this reporter. But by Sunday, the apartment had filled up with reminders of the snowy Kansas winters of my youth — that is, a lot of wet clothes — as jubilant kids dashed in and out of the wintry wonderland literally on our doorstep.

Snow falling near the Royal Palace on Jan. 9.


On the street where this reporter lives in Madrid on Jan. 9.


Madrid had only just ended its Christmas holidays and extinguished the holiday lights to refocus on the gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its curfews and limits on gatherings — so the snowstorm was a distraction, for sure.

And it may have even helped out with pandemic control by keeping some people at home, as officials pleaded for residents to not venture out, with trees branches cracking and falling under the weight of snow that also tumbled periodically from building ledges. Downed and destroyed trees were a testament to the ferocity of the storm.

Two massive pine trees on the ground in front of the Church of St. James and St. John the Baptist in Madrid on Jan. 10.


No doubt, this summer, we will remember Filomena’s wrath when walking the capital city’s hot and too often shadeless streets.

Heavily damaged trees in Plaza del Conde de Barajas in Madrid on Jan. 9.


The below tweet shows the storm’s aftermath on one tree-lined street, the upscale shopping thoroughfare Calle Fuencarral, off Gran Vía.

Among other miseries, people were trapped in their cars on snow-clogged roads for hours, with others stuck in funeral homes and shopping malls. And businesses already hard hit by the pandemic were forced to shut early on Friday and remain closed Saturday and Sunday, with some only reopening on Monday, using whatever they could to de-ice the sidewalks out front.

Snow-covered café tables in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor on Jan. 9.


La Taberna Antonio Sánchez, which bills itself as the oldest tavern in Madrid, was open for business on Jan. 10 — advertising hot soup.


Spain’s army, firefighters and forestry workers were on the case on Monday, with some of the biggest streets cleared, but just below our flat, the icy cobbled streets menaced at anyone daring to stray off a small path cleared by neighbors, which was sure to freeze over Monday night.

Much as in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak here, grocery stores, with many suppliers unable to navigate snowed-in streets, are running low on food, with empty shelves — including, in a particular pandemic throwback, the one assigned to toilet paper.

Empty meat cooler at a local DIA grocery store in the La Latina district of Madrid on Jan. 9.


And who might otherwise travel by bus or car, if not on foot, find themselves relegated by icy streets to crowded metros, thereby elevating the risk of virus transmission on subway trains.

As for the joys this snowstorm brought, few will forget the epic snowball fight on Madrid’s Gran Vía. It raged for hours on Saturday, until the police broke it up — things reportedly had gotten that fierce. And the makeshift sledding down snowy streets, where skiers and even snowboarders were also sighted.

Pedestrians are joined by cross-country skiers as they traverse slippery roads, including central Madrid’s Calle Mayor, on Jan. 10.


Madrid’s Gran Vía was largely cleared of snow by Sunday but remained but devoid of traffic.


Nor, likely, will they forget watching this dinosaur stomping around in a snow accumulation not seen in the city since the early 1970s.


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