By Humphrey Carter
THE Balearics woke to a winter wonderland yesterday after temperatures dropped to as low as -7ºC on Monday night and a near-record 20 centimetres of snow fell across the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range.
But while snow up on the mountains is no longer a rare event in Majorca, heavy flurries at sea level not only caught people by surprise in Palma, but also in Ibiza and Formentera - where it hardly ever snows.
In Minorca the snow was relatively heavy but the gale force 83 kilometre per hour winds, which added to the wind-chill factor - prevented it from settling.
A few people tried to get up to the snow yesterday morning, but, as the novelty factor has worn off slightly over the years, the majority of people are taking the polar front gripping the Balearics seriously and adhering to the advice issued by the emergency services.
At first light, a total of 72 kilometres of road were closed, most in the mountains, and all sea links between the islands and to the mainland were cancelled.
The Council of Majorca, mobilised 500 people along with 30 special mobile units. Its three snow ploughs were working round the clock to clear key mountain roads in particular Pollensa to Andratx, from the Barques lookout to Soller, Valldemossa to Esporles and the road up to Lluc from Caimari.
Most roads were open again yesterday afternoon. Black ice is going to be the problem this morning. with there being a severe shortage of salt yesterday. Temperatures dropped to below freezing again last night.
The Council of Majorca's emergency director María José Rodríguez said yesterday that, while the situation is not extreme and there is no need for the public to panic it's not the best time for day trips.
The 500-strong emergency team on full alert consists of 200 firemen, 100 road workers and 200 maintenance engineers.
There are however an extra 500 people on stand by should they be needed over the next 48 hours with the weather forecasted to worsen today.
The 30 mobile units are constantly patrolling the island's roads, monitoring the situation and, by yesterday afternoon, ten extra vehicles had been adapted to act as snow ploughs.
Nevertheless, drivers are being asked to only use their vehicles if necessary over the next few days or at least until the category one weather alert is lifted.
112 emergency service chiefs also issued a reminder yesterday that extra care should be taken because of the gale force winds in the north and east of Majorca.
In Capdepera yesterday, winds reached 103 kilometres per hour and in Alfabia, 96 kilometres per hour.
Today the gale force winds are forecast to continue battering the Balearics while 2 centimetres of snow is forecast to fall at sea level and 10 centimetres above 200 metres.
Over 50 people sleeping rough
THE Social Services assisted seven homeless people found sleeping rough on Monday night in various parts of freezing Palma. But a further 50 are said to be sleeping on the streets despite there still being 25 spare beds vacant in the various city centre shelters.
On Monday, an extra 50 emergency beds were distributed amongst the shelters and yesterday, social services director Antoni Serra met the police, Red Cross and Interior Ministry representatives to devise a system to encourage as many homeless people as possible to head to a shleter during this cold snap.
Antoni Serra said that, for one reason or another, the 50 to 60 homeless people still on the streets do not want to go to a shelter.
Until the category one weather alert is lifted, the shelters are open round-the-clock and, if the temperatures drop to -5ºC, then the police have powers to force the homeless into shelters.
Social service mobile units, carrying basic medicine, food and blankets, are patrolling the city between 8pm and 3am. Shelters have been advised to not turn anyone away and to be as accommodating and flexible as possible should certain new arrivals be concerned about being identified to the authorities or the police.