Worst Swiss heatwave since 2003 anticipated

Switzerland is preparing for the most intense heatwave in almost 12 years with weather experts predicting high temperatures above 35C for the first eight to ten days of July.

Worst Swiss heatwave since 2003 anticipated
Bathers swimming in the Rhine River in Basel, expected to be one of the hottest places in the country. Photo: Basel Tourismus

The torrid conditions across the country are expected to be the warmest since 2003 when thousands of people — mostly elderly — succumbed to the heat across Europe, weather specialist meteonews said on its website on Monday.

From August 3rd to 13th in 2003 maximum temperatures exceeded 35C for 11 days, the website noted.

Forecasts are calling for the same kind of heat starting on Wednesday and continuing until at least July 8th as a stable high pressure system extends from the Atlantic Ocean to Central Europe.

The mercury will start nudging 30C or more on Tuesday in Geneva, Sion (canton of Valais), Bern, Basel and Lugano in the canton of Ticino.

The following day, anticipated highs will reach 35C in Sion and Basel, where the maximum is set to reach 37 degrees on Thursday and 38C on Friday.

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While thunderstorms may bring brief respite in mountain areas, low temperatures at night are forecast to remain above 20C in many parts of the country.

Such extended periods of hot weather are relatively rare in Switzerland with the most recent example being a week in July 2006, when high readings above 30C were recorded every day.

Medical experts from various cantons are counselling elderly people and young children to stay indoors.

The canton of Vaud’s medical doctor warned that the general population should avoid physical activities from 11am to 3pm during the heatwave period.

In cases of heat stroke — with symptoms such as general weaknesses, dry mouth, confusion, vertigo, disorientation, nausea and cramps — people are advised to call a doctor without delay.

Meteonews says other advice for dealing with the above-average temperatures includes:

— drink at least two litres of water per day, while avoiding alcohol, fats and sugars

— wear light-coloured clothing and if you are going outside wear a cap or other hat

— freshen up by having at least one shower a day

— seek out cool, shaded areas

— if you have air conditioning, avoid setting the temperature below 21C — great differences between the heat indoors and outdoors can lead to sore throats and cases of angina

— ensure that elderly people — many of whom lose their sense of thirst — have enough to drink 

— keep infants away from confined spaces and ensure they in a place with adequate air flow  

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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.