Rainstorm wreaks havoc in western Switzerland

A violent storm packing winds of up to 130 kilometres an hour, hail and heavy rain swept through western Switzerland on Thursday uprooting trees, disrupting transport and sparking flash flooding.

Rainstorm wreaks havoc in western Switzerland
Scene from the federal gymnastics festival in Biel at the height of the storm. Photo: SRF

The storm, originating from the south, hit the canton of Geneva around 4pm before striking the cantons of Vaud, Bern, Neuchâtel, Jura and Basel.

Traffic at Geneva’s airport was disrupted and numerous streets were turned into rivers from the heavy rain, the ATS news agency reported.

Skyguide said air traffic at Geneva airport was suspended for 20 minutes while the storm passed through.

Traffic was also delayed on Swiss Federal Railways trains between Geneva and Lausanne.

In 15 minutes, as much as 20 millimetres of rain fell in the Geneva region, the weather service of the Swiss broadcaster SRF reported.

The storm, coming a day before the official start of summer,  marked a dramatic change in weather following a four-day heatwave that saw temperatures well above 30 degrees.

Local news media website reported heavy damage in various parts of Neuchâtel from hailstones measuring up to five centimetres in diameter.

Vehicle and building windows were smashed and vineyards were damaged, the website reported.

Trains came to a standstill between Neuchâtel and Chaux-de-Fonds and Neuchâtel and Val-de-Travers following a mudslide.

At least a dozen other municipalities sustained damage from the storm as it tracked toward the French border.

In Biel, in the canton of Bern, dozens of people were injured as strong winds devastated a campsite for the Swiss federal  gymnastics festival for the second time in a week, cantonal police said.

Police, firefighters, ambulance attendants and Swiss army members responded to deal with the situation, according to media reports.

The exact number of injured people could not be immediately confirmed.

Tents were thrown in the air and many people were trapped beneath debris, the SDA news service reported.

Last Thursday, strong winds forced cancellation of the opening ceremonies of the festival, involving 60,000 athletes from across the country. 

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Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland's best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland’s best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

At the same time, discharge levels on the Rhine, one of Europe’s major rivers which starts in the Swiss Alps, have never been so low in August since records began.

“There is a low water situation in Switzerland, especially on the central plateau and in the southern part of Ticino,” the country’s southernmost canton, said Michele Oberhansli, from the Federal Office for the Environment’s hydrology division.

READ ALSO: Water flown in by helicopter: How Switzerland has been hit by drought

“The reason for the existing situation is a precipitation deficit in the whole year of 2022, which affects the whole of Switzerland, as well as many other European countries,” she told AFP.

Soil moisture is down across the country and drought is affecting forests and agriculture, she said.

Lakes Constance, Lucerne, Lugano and Walen “are currently recording water levels that have never been so low in an August month since measurements began”, said Oberhansli.

Meanwhile Lakes Zug and Maggiore “continue to show values well below average”.

The shores of Lake Maggiore mark the lowest point in Switzerland, normally at 193 metres above sea level.

READ ALSO: MAP: The Swiss regions in danger of wildfires and the measures in place to avoid them

Except the lakes in the Jura region in the northwest and Lake Thun, the levels of all the other larger Swiss lakes are also below the long-term average.

Rivers down, glaciers melting

Meanwhile many Swiss rivers are recording readings that only occur once every two to 20 years.

“Discharge values on the Reuss and Rhine have never been so low since measurements began in August,” said Oberhansli.

The hydrologist said rain over the coming days should “slightly alleviate” the low water and drought levels, but would “not yet be sufficient to ease the overall situation”.

Following a dry winter, the summer heatwaves hitting Europe have been catastrophic for Switzerland’s Alpine glaciers, which have been melting at an accelerated rate.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Runners take on Swiss glacier race despite melt

A layer of ice — 15 metres thick in 2012 — has covered the Tsanfleuron Pass between two glaciers since at least the Roman era.

But most of it has gone and the ice on the pass will have melted away completely by the end of September, a ski resort said last week.