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WEATHER

Wintry weekend raises Swiss avalanche risks

After two weeks of sunshine, winter returned to many parts of Switzerland over the weekend as temperatures dropped and heavy snow hit the Alps.

Wintry weekend raises Swiss avalanche risks
The Glacier Express was among the train services impacted by snow. Photo: Glacierexpress.com

Close to 50 centimetres of snow fell on Saturday in areas of the southern canton of Ticino and the eastern canton of Graubünden over 1,500 metres, Meteonews reported.

Heavy snow disrupted rail traffic on the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn line between Realp and Hospental in the canton of Uri, the railway announced.

Elsewhere, the threat of an avalanche closed the Rhaetian Railway between Bergün and Samedan on the line between Chur and St. Moritz in the canton of Graubünden.

The Glacier Express and Bernina Express trains were being rerouted via Vereina and passengers were warned on Sunday to expect longer travelling times.

PostBus service was suspended on routes in the St. Moritz area, such as the Julier-Express between Bivio and St. Moritz, because of the heavy snowfall.

Meanwhile, no trains were operating on Sunday on the Rhaetian Railway line between Pontresina and Poschiavo on the St. Moritz-Poschiavo route.

“We advise against travelling for the time being,” Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) advised passengers planning to take the train between the two communities.

The risk of avalanches made the duration of disruption “indefinite”, SBB said.

“The precipitation has been clearly more heavy in the east of the country,” a spokesman from MeteoSwiss, the national weather office, told the ATS news agency.

Snow was falling at levels as low as 600 and 700 metres, while rain fell in lower-lying regions, the spokesman said.

Between 16 and 30 centimetres of snow were recorded in the Val d’Illiez in the canton of Valais, and less than 15 centimetres at Chateaux d’Oex in the Vaud Alps.

The danger of avalanches remained high in the Alps from Sion (Valais) to Chur (Graubünden), as well as Andermatt (Uri) and St. Moritz (Graubünden).

After recording temperatures as high as 27 degrees last Monday, Ticino, the warmest place in the country, saw highs rise to no higher than 10 degrees on Sunday, MeteoSwiss said.

Elsewhere, the mercury struggled to reach eight degrees in Geneva, Lausanne and Sion, the capital of Valais.

Wintry conditions are expected to continue until Tuesday before milder conditions return, MeteoSwiss said.

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WEATHER

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.

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