The press has no access to the Bakhmut frontline this weekend. Brigade after brigade says "no" to any request to approach their positions. "In a few days, you will be able to work with us," confirmed the last press officer interviewed. No explanation is given, but it is enough to look at the state of the roads to realize it: everything is paralyzed by mud.
The impressive snowfall that covered the Dombas in recent days with a white blanket of more than half a meter, and which did not freeze because of the temperatures of late March, mixed with the earth to form a huge quagmire north of Donetsk.
Making your way through the mud and crushed snow that now covers the roads, often marked by artillery fire, is a real ordeal. The few kilometers that separate Kramatorsk from Chasiv Yar require more than an hour of driving and several soggy stretches.
On the way, one passes military vehicles - of all shapes and sizes - being towed, and others that remain in the ditches while the soldiers try to repair them. And you don't see a single supply truck - which normally never fails to pass - driving towards the front line.
The snowfall took everyone by surprise. And while it is true that spring in Ukraine brings rain and changeable weather that can leave a few flakes, the trees that fell under the weight of snow and the huge uprooted branches, cutting the streets and roads, already indicated that this snowfall was not normal.
In this part of the country, we are more than used to snow and extreme temperatures, and trees resist storms without any problem. However, this "Philomena" managed to paralyze some of the ongoing military operations, as well as cut off the logistical supply chain of the Bajmut frontline.
It remains to be seen how this will affect operations in the coming weeks, as it may take more than a month for the quagmire to dry up. This would prevent the spring counteroffensive from starting as planned in early May.
More mud than ever
At present, it is difficult to imagine a tank column successfully crossing the roads north of the Dombas. For example, the Leopard tanks - of which Spain will soon send ten to Ukraine - weigh more than 60 tons: the first vehicles might be able to make it, but making their way through the mud would be impossible for those behind them.
How weather affects a theater of operations is telling. In the case of Ukraine, with its fertile, muddy black soil that receives abundant water every fall and spring, the mud conditions everything. This was already taken into account during the previous counter-offensive, launched before the rains came. And it will have to be taken into account again today.
Otherwise, the wear and tear of engines and tires, the blockage of tanks and the impossibility of rapid progress in areas directly exposed to enemy artillery can lead to the outright failure of any military operation.
For Ukrainian fighters, these external factors are also taking their toll: at present, soldiers serving in the trenches of the Eastern Front are waist-deep in mud and in undesirable wet conditions.
Troops on reconnaissance missions run a much higher risk of being detected by an enemy drone, as mobility is not the same. Other examples could be cited for the various forces and weapons currently fighting.
The difficulty of very long-term forecasting
If journalists have been talking for weeks about the Ukrainian counteroffensive expected in the spring, it is logical that the leaders of the armed forces have been working on it for months. And among the factors they will undoubtedly have taken into account, the weather is one of them. The problem is that the heavy snowfall that surprised us all was not predictable in the long term.
It is most difficult to make an accurate climatological study after 15 days, since it is based on seasonal and monthly climate models. Forecasts for less than five days or even for the next few hours are made with much more accurate tools that include data sources, radar and even satellites.
It is important to understand that an operation of the magnitude of a counter-offensive - we have already seen the dimensions of the one Ukraine carried out in September - requires months of preparation. That is why the weather information manipulated at the beginning will be the "very long term forecasts", as they are called.
But it is also obvious that as the start of the operation approaches, they will recalculate these parameters - which are absolutely decisive - and adapt the start of the operation if necessary.
The importance of weather on the battlefield
It's not about the weather, it's about the impact it will have on the theater of operations. In other words, it's not about whether it's going to rain or snow, it's about understanding how that rain or snow will affect the terrain: the roads, paths, trenches, trees that camouflage people or vehicles from the view of drones, and a host of other elements.
Particularly adverse weather conditions, such as extreme temperatures or massive precipitation, typically result in slower and less intense operations. Even more so if we are immersed, as we are, in a war of positions such as the one being waged in Ukraine today.
In the end, the limiting weather factors will determine the pace of operations in a very significant way. And they could weigh as much, if not more, than the delivery of weapons by Western countries, because no matter how many tanks arrive, if the rest of the wheeled vehicles cannot advance through the mud with personnel on board, the counteroffensive will not take place.
All military sources interviewed in recent months agree that there will be no significant movement until May. They are now concentrating on holding their positions and the secrecy surrounding the details of the counter-offensive is absolute. But this Ukrainian "Philomena" could delay everything.
More than a hundred years of sky observation
The importance of weather conditions for military operations is not new. Since the beginning of the last century, the defense structures of almost all countries have relied on meteorological agencies and have taken their forecasts into account when designing and programming the movements of their armies.
With the development of aviation since the 1950s, this information has become even more important. In the case of Spain, the National Center for Defense Forecasting (CNPD) was only created in 1987, but the evaluation of meteorological studies had been going on for decades.
Since then, the CNPD is still operational in Madrid and provides daily support to the FAS, in collaboration with the defense meteorological offices. Before each operation - national or international - this network of centers is responsible for producing a climatological report. And in some missions abroad, they even include a meteorologist among the troops deployed.
It is easy to imagine the quantitative leap that this discipline has undergone thanks to the technological advances that have marked the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Most of the work is now done by computers, although customized reports are also written. But the importance of looking to the sky before embarking on a military mission has not changed.