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Blizzard hits Finland: First-ever 'code red' traffic warning issued, flights cancelled

A major blizzard is bringing strong winds and heavy snow or sleet to most of Finland.

Windy conditions on Uunisaari Island in Helsinki's Kaivopuisto district on Saturday afternoon. Image: Kari Nieminen

Meteorologists warned Saturday that the biggest snowstorm of this winter so far could bring damage and snarl transport through most of Finland, especially along the south coast.

The blizzard, dubbed Valtteri, could bring accumulations of up to 30-40cm this weekend to some areas.

Several flights scheduled to depart Helsinki Airport between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning have been cancelled (siirryt toiseen palveluun), along with passenger ferry departures between Vaasa and Umeå, Sweden on Sunday.

Tallink Silja said on Saturday afternoon that its ships would continue to sail between Finland, Sweden and Estonia. However communications director Marika Nöjd said that ships between Finland and Sweden might not stop at Mariehamn in the Åland Islands on Sunday due to high seas in the archipelago.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) predicts winds of 25 metres per second and wave height of more than five metres in the Åland Sea on Sunday.

Unprecedented 'red alert'

The FMI issued the first-ever red traffic warning for the Uusimaa region, which includes the Helsinki metropolitan area.

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Poor driving conditions were predicted throughout southern and central Finland. Image: Joni Takalo / Yle

The institute warned of "extremely bad road conditions" between 3pm Saturday and 5am Sunday due to snow, with "major traffic disruptions likely" and "significant risk of traffic accidents".

It also issued a warning of strong winds from the south to southeast during the same period. Gusts of 20 metres per second may lead to falling trees and electricity outages, the FMI said. Crown snow-load accumulating on branches, power lines and structures could also cause damage.

Poor driving conditions are again predicted for Sunday everywhere south of Oulu, with strong winds at sea.

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The storm, dubbed Valtteri, could bring accumulations of up to 30-40cm this weekend. Image: Miikka Varila / Yle

However Mika Rantanen of the FMI's Climate Change and Extreme Weather group pointed out on Saturday morning that the storm would not necessarily be of historic proportions.

"While this is indeed the first time in history that a red traffic weather warning is in effect, it is because the red level in this warning category was only introduced last winter," he wrote on Twitter.

"The storm itself will be unusual but not unprecedented. For example, last winter (January 2021) snowfall called Toini brought 20-30 cm of snow to Uusimaa region. Also in November 2012 storm Antti brought ~30 cm of snow to Helsinki with a strong easterly wind," added Rantanen.

'Malik' crosses UK and Nordics

Snow and sleet began to hit the Åland Islands on Saturday morning, reaching the west coast around midday. Precipitation began in the Helsinki region around 2pm.

The low-pressure system, named Storm Malik by the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), also brought high winds and wet weather to the northern UK on Saturday, according to Britain's Met Office. In neighbouring Sweden, trains were cancelled amid wind gusts of up to 30 metres per second.