Niklas sweeps through northern Switzerland

UPDATED: Vestiges of Hurricane Niklas swept through northern Switzerland and parts of the Alps on Tuesday, uprooting trees, damaging buildings, blowing down signs and causing the death of one motorist and at least a dozen injuries, according to media reports.

Niklas sweeps through northern Switzerland
Tree blown down by storm halts train in Lower Saxony, Germany. Photo: DPA

Winds gusting between 70 kilometres and 100 kilometres an hour were recorded in the Swiss plateau and exceeded 160 km/h in parts of the Alps, the ATS news agency reported.

A 75-year-old man died in Andelfingen in the canton of Zurich when a tree fell on his car as he was driving on a road through the woods, cantonal police said.

The victim died before emergency rescue workers could extricate him from the vehicle. 

Elsewhere, a 77-year-old cyclist was injured after being struck by a trampoline that blew off the balcony of an apartment building in the municipality of Kriens in the canton of Lucerne, ATS said.

A 57-year-old woman received minor injuries when a tree fell on her car in Bubikon in the canton of Zurich.

Police in the canton responded to 100 calls for assistance during the storm, which originated in northern Europe.

Niklas was blamed for at least three deaths in Germany, The Local Germany reported.

Saxony-Anhalt police said a man was crushed to death when a concrete wall blew down near Magdeburg in eastern Germany.

Two road maintenance workers were killed when a tree fell on their car in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate as a result of the storm, police said.

The strong winds disrupted train service in parts of Germany and cut electricity to thousands of homes.

 In Austria, a 63-year-old man died as he tried to fix his roof, while a nine-year-old girl was injured by a falling tree.

In Switzerland, several mountain railways cancelled trains, including the Matterhorn-Gotthard line between Andermatt in the canton of Uri and Disentis in the canton of Graubünden, ATS said.

The storm forced the closure of the cog railway to Mount Pilatus near Lucerne and various mountain cable cars.

Winds gusting up to 165 km/h were recorded at Crap Masegn in the canton of Graubünden.

Weather experts clocked winds at more than 105 km/h in Zurich.

A massive slab of copper from the roof a church in the city dislodged and fell, damaging three cars and the balcony of a nearby apartment building.

In Flawil in the canton of Saint Gallen the storm carried away part of the roof of a building storing chocolate.

Heavy rain following the strong winds struck the Jura region, causing flooding in villages in the cantons of Neuchâtel and Bern.

Niklas followed on the heels of another storm, Mike, which dumped a record amount of rain on areas of the Jura, MeteoNews said in a news release.

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What’s next after Switzerland’s ‘extremely worrying’ heatwave?

Switzerland hit record high temperatures for June for the first time in 75 years on Sunday but what's the forecast for the coming days and weeks?

What's next after Switzerland's 'extremely worrying' heatwave?

With 36.9C recorded in Beznau, in the canton of Aargau on Sunday, Switzerland equalled the high temperature record held by Basel since 1947.

Other Swiss towns experienced sweltering temperatures as well: In Neuchâtel the mercury rose to 36.5C, in Sion it hit 36.4C and  in Lausanne it was 32.6C, according to MeteoNews.

Temperatures were decidedly more pleasant at high altitudes in the mountains: the temperature of 16.9C was recorded at 2,900 metres in the shade on the Diablerets glacier.

Whilst lower down at the Moléson in Fribourg, which stands at 2,000 metres, a more seasonal 24 degrees was recorded.

Like its neighbours, “Switzerland is not immune to brief and extreme phenomena”, climatologist Martin Beniston, honorary professor at the University of Geneva, said in an interview with Tribune de Genève.

And if high temperatures continue — as they are forecast for next days — “the very dry ground will reinforce the warming, it is a vicious circle”, said Vincent Devantay, meteorologist from MeteoNews.

This means higher risk of fires, especially in the forest. “They have really dried up compared to last year. The lack of rain is becoming extremely worrying”, he pointed out.

Thunderstorms are predicted in parts of Switzerland towards the end of the week but they will not necessarily prevent the drought, Beniston said.

What the soil needs are “gentle showers, repeated, for two to three weeks”, rather than occasional heavy thunderstorms that don’t provide enough moisture for the earth’s deeper layers.

Continued rains are not expected in the immediate future and  forecasts for the summer months predict more intense heatwaves.

READ MORE: How this week’s heatwave will hit Switzerland and how to stay cool

What are the consequences of the heatwave and no rain?

As The Local already reported, Swiss glaciers are now melting faster than usual, partly due to the early heat wave in May.
READ MORE: Why Switzerland’s glaciers are melting faster than usual this summer

But there is more.

Hydrologist Massimiliano Zappa, also warns that current very high temperatures and no rain could speed up the drought across Switzerland, especially as Swiss rivers and streams “have a lower flow than the average of previous years”.

Water rationing could become inevitable, he said.

 “In Spain and southern Italy, for example, people know how to get by with little water, because they have been educated to meet their daily needs with less. But this is not part of Swiss mentality”, Zappa said.

The heat wave could also impact railway installations as well as electronic devices, according to Le Temps newspaper.

“Overheated smartphones, expanding rails, and computer fans running at full speed: high temperatures put a strain on infrastructure and our everyday objects, while requiring more energy”, Le Temps said.