WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The usually frigid Canadian city of Winnipeg - often nicknamed Winterpeg - has been so mild and dry this winter that a popular snow-sculpting competition has been forced to truck in 200 loads of fake flakes for this year's annual event.
While Europe shivers through a severe cold snap that has killed hundreds of people, Winnipeg has enjoyed its third-mildest January in more than a century, with the average temperature a relatively balmy -10.8 Celsius (12.6 Fahrenheit).
It's been the same story across much of Canada. Toronto, the country's biggest city, was forecast to climb well above the freezing mark on Thursday, while Berlin will be at -11 C going into the weekend and Paris and London will hover around -6 C.
"People refer to Winnipeg as Winterpeg so they expect it to be really cold, but everyone is really happy about the warm weather," said Emili Bellefleur, spokeswoman for Festival du Voyageur, which includes snow carvings of wolves, bison and cultural symbols around the city of 700,000.
"We're going to take it, you know?"
With supplies of natural snow skimpy, the festival is trucking in artificially made snow from a winter recreation area, similar to the machine-made snow used on ski hills.
Bellefleur said she knows of only one other year that the 43-year-old festival had to buy artificial snow.
Winnipeggers and others in Western Canada can thank a flip-flop in air pressure patterns for the mild winter, which has funneled warmer southwest air across the Prairies, said Natalie Hasell, meteorologist at Environment Canada.
Normally, the La Nina weather phenomenon off the Pacific Coast of North America would leave the Prairies digging out of frigid, snowier than usual conditions.
But this winter it's been much milder, and bone dry. Nearly all of the country's main grain-growing region has received below-normal precipitation since November 5.
While Winnipeggers have happily put away their snow shovels, a dozen of the Festival du Voyageur's snow sculptors, coming from as far away as Switzerland, the Netherlands and even Mexico have been shocked by the mild weather.
Usually, "the worst part for them when they come from Mexico is dealing with the cold itself," Bellefleur said. "Not necessarily the (lack of) snow."
Editing by Rob Wilson