MOSCOW — It is really winter in Russia when the snow-eater comes out.

It seldom makes an appearance, but when it does, hissing and gobbling up snow with metal rods resembling arms, you know there must be a lot of white stuff on the streets.

That is exactly what happened over the weekend. In a period of 30 hours, 20 inches of snow was dumped on Moscow, causing flight cancellations and car accidents across the capital. The unrelenting blizzard even broke a 70-year record.

For the snow-eater, whose Russian name translates as “pawed snow loader,” it was time to get to work.

As the one-manned vehicle creeps along the sides of roads, its size and sluggish speed mean it is almost exclusively seen at night. The “paws” shovel heaps of snow onto a conveyor belt that extends up over its back. A separate truck follows close behind, collecting the snow as they go.

In the Soviet era — when regular snowfall was more common than today — the machine was lovingly referred to as “golden hands” by adults. Children would simply call it “paws."

Today, the snow is carried to one of Moscow’s 56 melting stations, where it is liquefied, filtered and released into the sewer system — a far cry from the beginning of the 21st century, when the snow was being dumped in the city’s rivers, severely polluting the water.

In the capital alone, processing plants can melt 132 million gallons’ worth of snow each day.

They are part of a vast complex of machinery and workers tasked with keeping Moscow moving. Each winter, teams of mostly men work round the clock, shoveling snow from rooftops, hammering at icicles and shattering perilous puddles of frozen water on the sidewalks.

The current pawed snow loader was built by a Soviet factory in the early 1970s, but the model may have roots in the United States. Russians have connected the invention to American Joseph Joy, who created the machine in the 1920s for coal-loading.

Natalia Abbakumova contributed to this report.