More than 40 injured in multiple accidents and massive delays to Helsinki public transport as snow and ice compound the chilly conditions UPDATED SATURDAY
Hospitals raised readiness as likelihood of injuries increased; one pile-up on the Lahti motorway involved around 100 vehicles
More snow and a continuation of the intense cold of recent days are bringing serious problems for transport, both public and private, in Southern Finland.
In Uusimaa the driving conditions are extremely treacherous in parts, as driving powdery snow reduces visibility and road surfaces are very slick.
All railed traffic in the capital is having problems. Numerous commuter and long-distance train departures have been cancelled, the Helsinki Metro is suffering from problems with automatic doors and brakes, meaning that trains are not keeping to their normal timetables, and trams are unable to operate on their normal routes.
Bus companies have exhorted drivers to throw away the schedules and drive very carefully.
There have been pile-ups involving numerous vehicles on Kehä I (the Inner Ring Road), Kehä III (the Outer Ring), and Hämeenlinnanväylä (Highway 3 to Tampere) and Lahdenväylä (Highway 4 to Lahti).
Kehä III had to be closed to traffic altogether between Tikkurila and the Lahti motorway intersection owing to multiple accidents, police reported at midday, although thus far injuries have been only minor.
According to traffic coming over the taxi radios, all other major thoroughfares with the exception of the Lahti motorway had carriageways blocked in one direction or another as a result of accidents, often involving a dozen or more vehicles.
Before noon, Helsinki police had been made aware of more than 100 road accidents, including one incident in which an army Pasi armoured personnel carrier had run into the back of a commuter bus.
Police have also been kept more than busy dealing with other road issues, such as trucks that have got themselves stuck on the icy surface.
Although most of the accidents during the morning have been fender-benders without injuries, police are urging drivers to take extreme care and to adhere to the proper speeds for the conditions and leave adequate space to the vehicle in front.
Following reports of a massive pile-up on the Lahti motorway around noon, hospitals in the capital region have raised their levels of readiness in anticipation of injuries. At least six people have been taken to hospital as a result of this particular crash.
Elsewhere in the country, road conditions are not great, but are "normal" for the winter season.
On Friday morning, Helsinki City Transport (HKL) announced that all tram lines were experiencing delays because of the adverse weather.
There were breaks in service on the 4, 6, 8, and 10 lines in the early morning rush-hour, with one acute problem being that trams could not access Katajanokka at all owing to a truck that was stuck on the tracks.
One eye-witness reported that taxis were streaming towards the area, and that many of the passengers disembarking from ferries appeared to be tramping into the centre of town on foot, dragging their luggage behind them.
The snow is expected to weaken by mid-afternoon, but showers are forecast to last into Saturday.
Elsewhere in Finland, conditions are dry and cold, and the cause of the snow experienced along the south coast is that the sea is still open, at least for now.
The cold spell is not done yet - the Finnish Meteorological Institute reports that the current low for the winter of -39.2°C was reported in Kuusamo’s Kiutaköngäs on Thursday, and things are expected to go a bit lower still, with the -40°C mark possibly being reached somewhere today.
This week has seen new records for the winter set on an almost daily basis, but -40°C is actually by no means unheard of in Finland - in fact temperatures dipping below this point are experienced in three out of four winters on average.
Finland’s all-time record of -51.5°C was measured in Pokka in Kittilä on January 28th, 1999.
After we went to press on Friday, things if anything got worse: one stretch of the Lahti motorway just north of the Outer Ring Road became a veritable automobile graveyard, with dozens, possibly more than a hundred cars and other vehicles either piled into each other or buried deep in snow on the central reservation if the driver managed to avoid the debris ahead.
Things also got a good deal uglier on the personal injury front: at least 43 people required hospital treatment, and several suffered serious injury, though it appears that fatalities were somehow miraculously avoided.
The two pictures added from Saturday's newspaper and the YouTube videos give some idea of the scale of the carnage, and paint a depressing picture of drivers failing to come to terms with what were admittedly extremely challenging and hazardous winter conditions.
Excess haste, failure to leave an adequate gap to the vehicle in front, minimal visibilty, and a slippery road surface created a perfect storm that ensured that once the traffic had stopped for one small accident, the wreckage piled up until someone finally had the sense to leave a long enough distance to the car in front - or until the police simply closed the entire highway at an earlier intersection.
Regrettably, the Finns - who often tend to scoff at people from more southerly latitudes who cannot cope with unexpected wintry conditions - do themselves have plenty of "previous" in this department.
The first slippery mornings of the autumn generally result in a massive spike in vehicle insurance claims and bodyshop reservations, and the most recent example of apocalyptic scenes such as were witnessed on Friday came in March 2005.
On that occasion, three people were not so lucky.
Conditions on Saturday were almost as bad as on Friday, but it appears many drivers have learnt a valuable lesson.
Some of them even managed to locate their rear fog-light switch as visibility was again reduced to a minimum by whirling snow.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Freezing conditions in prospect - in Finland and Eastern Europe alike (30.1.2012)
Snow removal season has started in earnest in Helsinki (20.1.2012)
Long-awaited snow whitens Helsinki and brings traffic chaos (3.1.2012)
Images of the carnage and chaos in the Helsinki area on Friday morning
Readers´ pictures sent in to Helsingin Sanomat, often showing long queues of stationary trams
We have been here before - Experts blame Thursday´s traffic carnage on complacency and excessive speeds (18.3.2005)
YouTube: Video of one car´s excursion onto the central reservation, and shots of cars piling one after another into an already sizeable pile of twisted metal (Lahti motorway, 3.2.2012, explicit lyrics)
Finnish Meteorological Institute
Another YouTube video of the scene on the Lahti motorway (one of several - the third in the sequence of mobile phone footage shot by user syy56ari is particularly depressing and seems almost interminable)
Ilta-Sanomat carried this silent video of a truck driver making his way slowly through a long line of stationary vehicles, many of them crumpled after being rear-ended. His own truck was hit from behind twice.