An unusually dry and warm spell through much of the winter in Istanbul finally came to an end as snowfall descended throughout the sprawling metropolis Saturday evening, part of a cold and wet front covering much of western Turkey.
According to Turkish State Meteorological Service (TSMS) data, the snowfall will be effective throughout the weekend and could last partly until Wednesday, with temperatures hovering between 7 to minus 2 degrees Celsius (44.6 to 28.4 Fahrenheit).
The city's western and northern outskirts were partly covered in white since Friday. In downtown Istanbul, 20 to 40 centimeters of snow are expected to cover roads and other areas, prompting Istanbul's Metropolitan Municipality's (IBB) Disaster Coordination Center (AKOM) to issue warnings for citizens.
This year, 1,351 vehicles and 7,031 personnel will be deployed to 434 locations for snow plowing and salinization efforts on a road network of 4,023 kilometers (2,500 miles), the IBB said in a statement.
The snowfall usually means chaos for the city of 15 million, as drivers are usually unprepared and untrained for harsh winter conditions, but this year the city welcomes its first snowfall under a weekend lockdown in effect throughout the country as part of efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of an effort coordinated by the Istanbul Governorate and 39 district governorates, 1,291 homeless people are being housed in hotels. The governorate called on citizens to inform the police if they see people without shelter especially during freezing weather conditions.
Cold weather and snowfall will also be effective in much of northwestern Turkey and higher altitude regions throughout the country's western provinces. The TSMS issued warnings for drivers in Kocaeli, Sakarya, Yalova and Bursa provinces.
In downtown Bursa, the country's fourth-largest city and a major industrial hub, snowfall has been effective since Friday. Some 10 kilometers south, on Mount Uludağ, the ultra-prominent peak that serves as Turkey's largest winter sports and resort center, the skiing season finally began after heavy snowfall covered all major tracks.
In northwestern Kocaeli's Kartepe, the nearest skiing facility to Istanbul, tracks are expected to be open as of Sunday after the recent snowfall.
Both resorts are exempt from overall lockdown limitations in facilities given that guests make reservations beforehand and provide their codes from the Health Ministry's Life Fits Into Home (HES) mobile application, which is used to monitor positive COVID-19 cases.
Further northwest in Turkey's European territories, Tekirdağ, Kırklareli and Edirne provinces in the Thrace region have already been covered by a snow blanket since Friday.
In the Aegean city province of Izmir, where snowfall is a rare and much celebrated phenomenon in the downtown and coastal areas, citizens in Aliağa, Dikili and Kemalpaşa districts enjoyed snow for the first time in years despite the lockdown.
In the neighboring Manisa province, the mining district of Soma welcomed snowfall for the first time in three years, whereas further north in downtown Balıkesir, and in coastal towns of Ayvalık, Burhaniye and Edremit, citizens enjoyed the first snowfall in four years. The TSMS warned the residents of the northern Aegean region that ice might form on the roads.
In central Sivas province, heavy snowfall and thick fog moved in near the city's Nuri Demirağ Airport and surrounding areas, although flights resumed during the day without disruptions.
Following days of snowfall, the central city of Eskişehir welcomed Saturday with icicles, and nighttime temperatures fell to minus 5 degrees Celsius, with the TSMS warning residents of frost as temperatures are projected to drop as low as minus 13 degrees Celsius on Tuesday.
In the country's east, where harsh winters last as long as six months, 893 villages in Erzurum, Erzincan, Kars and Tunceli provinces were cut off from district and province centers over heavy snowfall, with local municipality, governorate and General Directorate of Highways (KGM) crews resuming efforts to clear the roads. A total of 29 villages in the southeastern provinces of Şırnak and Siirt were affected by heavy snowstorms.