Ice-free coastal waters in February considered exceptional, even in Southern Finland
Icebreakers sitting idle in Helsinki
"I cannot remember if the sea has ever before been completely free of ice in February", wonders 50-year-old Lippe Santapukki from the archipelago outside the southern city of Espoo.
The experts are equally astonished.
"True, this is quite exceptional", admits researcher Jouni Vainio of the Finnish Institute of Marine Research (FIMR).
According to the Finnish Maritime Administration, on an average winter there is 29 centimetres of ice in the sea areas outside Helsinki by mid-February. Even last year, there were more than ten centimetres of ice at this time of year. The ice sheet covering the sea usually reaches its maximum thickness in March.
The winter of 2005 was also somewhat iceless. The shipping lanes were totally free of ice, but at least the inner bays and shoreline waters were iced over.
FIMR does not keep records of the ice situation of bays and shorelines. Vainio, however, who has worked as an ice researcher since 1988, does not remember that the Seurasaarenselkä sea area in front of Helsinki or areas under the Lauttasaari bridges would ever have been free of ice in February.
"The Bay of Bothnia and much of the Gulf of Bothnia should be iced over, and in the Gulf of Finland between Helsinki and Tallinn there should be ice as well", Vainio compares.
The mild and iceless winter has kept most of the icebreakers tied up in port as well. In the Gulf of Finland there has been no need for icebreaker services, and even in the Bay of Bothnia at the northern end of the Baltic Sea, only a small area has required services from two of the vessels, maritime inspector Åke Tötterström reveals.
Often the first icebreaker assistance is needed in the Gulf of Finland at the beginning of January. In February, two vessels have usually been needed there. Now the crews of the idle ships keep their accumulated holidays, or spend time repairing and servicing the vessels.
There is still hope for at least a thin ice cover even in the south. The weather forecast is promising sub-zero temperatures for the coming days. A calm frosty spell can still cause even the southern seas to freeze over, Vainio notes.
"But if we do get ice, it will not stay for long. The rays of the March sun are already quite strong."
For now, all the signs are that nature thinks it is soon going to be spring, as some of these photographs will demonstrate.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Ice road across Lake Pielinen opens - several weeks late (8.2.2008)
Storm cuts power lines and fells trees in southern coastal areas (21.1.2008)
Finnish Meteorological Institute
FIMR: Ice Conditions