ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Winters in Russia are always tough, but rarely like this - so warm that bears aren't hibernating and so gray that humans are having trouble waking up.

Much of the European part of Russia has been gripped by an uncharacteristic warm spell this winter, with temperatures generally well above freezing and little if any snow.

It's an astonishing contrast to last year, when it was so cold that even Russians inured to frigid winters complained about temperatures that lurked around 30 below zero for days at a time.

This year, they'd probably be happy for the cold to come back.

The bears in the Leningradsky Zoo in St. Petersburg certainly would be. Two of the zoo's five bears have come out of hibernation already, weeks ahead of time.

On Saturday, visitors were surprised when, despite a sign reading "The bears are in their den; they are hibernating," a bear named Varya ambled out into view for a snack.

Some of the zoo's hedgehogs also are waking up.

"They can't sleep because of the weather," said zoo assistant Lyuba Astakhova, who added that they nod off when the temperature falls below freezing.

Humans, meanwhile, are complaining about the seemingly endless days of heavy cloud cover that reduces what little light is available to Russians at this time of year, when the sun clears the horizon for only about seven hours a day.

Average temperatures throughout European Russia have mostly been above freezing in December and January, some 11-15 degrees higher than normal, Roman Vilfand of Russia's Hydrometeorological Center said Tuesday.

"Short-term fluctuations have occurred before, but such weather persisting for a whole month is a previously unseen phenomenon," the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted him as saying.

But Vilfand held out some hope, predicting the temperature will fall to 14 in about a week.