Athens in Snow
© AP Photo/Thanassis StavrakisThe city of Athens with the Parthenon temple atop the ancient Acropolis hill is covered with snow during a snowfall, on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022.The wave of bad weather hitting Greece is forecast to continue through Tuesday, and has seen snow falling even on some islands. Authorities have warned the public to avoid all but essential outdoor movement, and several major roads and highways are passable only with snow chains.
Athens, Greece — Heavy snowfall disrupted air and road traffic Monday in the Greek capital of Athens and neighboring Turkey's largest city of Istanbul, while most of Greece, including — unusually — several Aegean islands, and much of Turkey were blanketed by snow.

The storm, named in Greece Elpida, or "hope," snarled traffic in both Athens and Istanbul, a metropolis of 16 million people.

Flights in and out of Istanbul Airport were suspended until 4 a.m. Tuesday (0100 GMT). Authorities worked to clear runways and a road leading to the airport, where the roof of a facility used by Turkish Airlines' cargo department collapsed from the weight of snow. No one was hurt.

Authorities in Istanbul also suspended intercity bus services and temporarily blocked travel to the city from Turkey's Thrace region. People stranded on roads abandoned vehicles to walk home or crowded subway and other public transportation stations. Schools across Turkey are closed for a winter break, but universities halted classes for two days. Public offices and shopping malls closed early to ease rush-hour congestion.

Flurries were forecast to continue over the next few days in Istanbul. The Turkish city's Disaster Coordination Center AKOM said an Icelandic low-pressure system is behind the cold front and precipitation.

In Greece, authorities warned the public to limit outdoor movements to only essential ones on Monday and Tuesday, while schools in many areas were closed. Government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said more than 46,000 school classes were being held online.

Turkey in Snow
© AP Photo/Emrah GurelTourist boats docked in the Golden Horn with Suleymaniye Mosque in the background at Istanbul, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. Snow blanketed most of Turkey's largest city Monday. Flurries are forecast to continue over the next few days in Istanbul, a metropolis of some 16 million spanning two continents and bridging Europe to Asia.

The snow came down thick and fast throughout the day in central Athens, settling on the marble columns of the ancient Acropolis. Authorities sent out emergency alerts to cell phones in the wider Athens area warning of severe snowfall.

Snow chains were mandatory for cars on many roads, while trucks were banned from the main highway heading north from Athens. Nevertheless, the icy conditions and lack of snow chains on some vehicles left traffic snarled for hours on many of the Greek capital's roads, including a highway ring road and one of the main avenues in Athens. Several drivers reported being stuck in their cars for hours.

Climate Change and Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides apologized for the problems on the ring road, and said its private operators would be called to provide explanations. He added that efforts were being made to keep all major highways open.

Stylianides said only minor power supply problems had occurred, mostly on the island of Evia, and were expected to be resolved by later Monday.

Several domestic and international flights to Athens airport were canceled, while subway service to the airport was partially suspended as some of it runs above ground.

The health ministry announced that COVID-19 vaccination centers in the wider Athens region and Evia would close early Monday and remain closed Tuesday.

Authorities expect the snowfall will persist Tuesday.

Snow is common in the Greek mountains and in northern Greece but is less frequent in central Athens and on Aegean islands. Last year, the Greek capital was hit by a major snowstorm that caused severe problems, knocking out power for days in certain neighborhoods and making all streets impassable without snow chains. Thousands of trees collapsed from the weight of the snow and ice.

To the north in neighboring Albania on Monday, all elementary and high schools closed for three days because of cold weather. Authorities advised people to avoid driving. Temperatures reached -17 C (about 1 F) in eastern Albania, isolating some areas and causing problems for the electricity and water supplies. Many rural roads have been blocked.

Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.