ONE year ago on January 9, 2021, Madrileños woke up to discover a city transformed by Storm Filomena. It was the biggest snowfall in more than half a century and for a few days it was truly magical.
Those lucky enough to have winter sports gear in their store rooms gleefully took out skis to explore the city in its blanket of white, while those with snowboards sought out the hilliest streets.
Late the night before, as the layer of snow thickened on the streets, I crunched through the fresh powder to marvel at the winter wonderland and was surprised by a man casually gliding across the Puerta del Sol on skis.
Snowboarders had gathered at Callao to hurl down the slope towards the Plaza España while on the steepest narrow streets of Malasaña, locals using whatever came to hand, from plastic trays to polythene bags, to sledge down towards Dos de Mayo.
As I returned home before the midnight curfew – a measure imposed by the central government across Spain at the time – snow weighed down the boughs of trees that line streets and avenues of the city and some had already broken.
By morning, snowmen were standing sentry on the streets and people had wrapped up in their warmest winter gear to tour the city and enjoy the spectacle.
Crowds gathered on the Gran Via for an impromptu snowball fight and children were tugged along on makeshift sledges.
The parks were all closed because of the risk of falling trees – and some didn’t reopen until weeks after – cars were covered in piles of snow and the roads were impassable.
And while the fun of the snow was enjoyed by many, the negatives were soon felt. Ambulances couldn’t reach those in need, public transport ground to a halt and the streets soon became treacherous.
Groups of neighbours worked together to clear doorsteps and create channels through the knee deep snow, taking it in turns to use shovels that quickly sold out with the sudden demand.
But these paths soon turned into icy tracks, lethal for the elderly and those struggling with mobility. With snow drifts piling up on rooftops and then crashing onto the pavement below, passing beneath the eaves of buildings became a risky business.
Thousands of trees were damaged, some crushing cars as their branches ripped off beneath the weight of the snowfall, and within days the picturesque snowy scenes had turned instead into piles of black ice and dirty grey sludge.
Madrid and other areas affected by the storm were declared a disaster zone, with extra funds promised to repair the damage and better prepare for future extreme weather phenomena, measures that in many ways, have yet to materialise.
But a year on from the storm, it is easy to remember only the beauty of Madrid in snow and the city’s residents coming together to enjoy it.