Winter comes but once a year, but is always unpredictable
It's wasn't the stunning pictures of chocolate-box log cabins encased in ice, or reports of -33c temperatures that set me a-shiver, but the line that read: 'it has reportedly been snowing for 26 days in the southwestern Bosnian town of Sijenica'.
Whenever journalists use the term 'reportedly', it's usually because facts cannot be verified, figures have no veracity and nothing can be said with any certainty. Which is more frightening still: in this day and age – when Twitter acts as a user-generated newsfeed that's far swifter and more sophisticated than anything Reuters can muster – that a town in Europe (albeit one in the heart of the Balkans) can be all but cut off from the outside world because of a flurry of heavy snowfall, just makes you think.
No matter how technologically advanced our roads, railways and airline industries become, mother nature still has her own appetite for disruption, and there's largely nothing we can do about it. Almost two years ago, Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano forced the cancellation of thousands of European flights, costing the aviation industry more than €1bn. Memories of lengthy queues full of angry, teary travellers have stuck long in the memory: how dare nature, the collective attitude appeared to wail, stop us from doing what we want to do!?
But sometimes nature strikes, and there's little we can do about it. Mountainous towns and villages scattered like terracotta cubes across the emerald terrain of Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Hungary may look dazzlingly pretty and quaint when the sun's shining, but they're vulnerable to isolation when inclement weather strikes.
And despite an excellent, reliable and far-reaching communications network now available throughout Europe, physical connectivity is yet to catch up. Mountain roads still become impassable when dumped upon from a snowy height, railways are still susceptible at extremely low temperatures, and runways blanketed in heavy snow cannot always be cleared in time in order to handle the intense volume of aviation traffic we regularly subject them to.
When extremities in weather occur, a tangible East-West divide becomes ever more apparent. Despite the fact that Portugal's elderly are more likely to die as a result of cold winter weather (a deadly combination of homes that are built for the searing summer temperatures but ill-equipped to deal with Portugal's often sodden, chilly winters), Eastern Europe tends to suffer more greatly.
In Ukraine, 101 people have died so far as a result of the cold snap, and in Romania, Poland and Czech Republic, 11 deaths have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning caused by faulty heaters.
The East still has plenty of catching up to do, which is why it is heartening to hear politicians calling for greater Europeanisation and cooperation.
These are difficult times. The recession is an enduring millstone around the EU's neck, and harsh weather just makes things harder for the continent's poor, homeless, isolated and desperate. If there's a village in deepest, darkest Bosnia that's cut-off from the outside world, we need to do all we can to minimise the damage that might befall this, and other, secluded communities.
Better roads, cheaper connectivity, safe, reliable sources of energy, insulation and, perhaps most importantly of all, a sense of duty to our fellow Europeans – that's what's needed.