Danger alerts extended as heatwave takes hold

A mass of warm air originating from Spain and North Africa ignited torrid temperatures across Western Switzerland on Wednesday, shattering records as MeteoSwiss, the national weather office, extended danger alerts for most of the country.

Danger alerts extended as heatwave takes hold
Photo: AFP

The office raised the heatwave danger level to four (out of a scale with five as a maximum) for the next several days in regions below 800 metres, including all the major Swiss cities as of Thursday.

Geneva registered a high of 35.1C at around 4pm on Wednesday and the cities of Basel and Sion recorded similar top temperatures of around 35C, MeteoSwiss said.

Wednesday was the hottest day in Switzerland so far this year and the country has never experienced weather so warm on July 1st since records have been kept, website MeteoNews said.

With temperatures expected to spike even higher by Saturday, when the forecast high for Basel is close to 39C and 38 degrees for Geneva, cantonal authorities have put into action heatwave emergency plans.

The plans vary in detail but essentially advise residents to take special measures for the most vulnerable members of the population, including dependent seniors, children under the age of four, infants and people working outside.

The canton of Geneva advised avoiding physical activities at the hottest times of the day, staying in the shade, closing windows and shutters during the day and opening them at night to encourage currents of air.

The majority of homes in Switzerland do not have air conditioning, although public places such as supermarkets, cinemas and museums usually do.


The Geneva cantonal medical office recommended adults drink at least 1.5 litres of water per day and to avoid alcohol, which can cause dehydration.

Concern was raised for elderly persons, who are particularly vulnerable to hot spells.

When temperatures reach above 30 degrees, the number of deaths of seniors can rise by 10 percent above the normal rate, the Pro Senectute advocacy group said in a statement.

This is based on the experience of 2003 when thousands of elderly people died across Europe during a week-long heatwave.

Many elderly people are not equipped to deal with high temperatures because they have “poorer thermoregulation, they sweat less and have a decreased sense of thirst” compared to the rest of the population, the group said.

“They are therefore dependent on the attention of relatives, neighbours and caregivers.”

Authorities also said the heat was contributing to higher air pollution levels in various parts of Switzerland.

Concentrations of ozone measured at many stations on Wednesday afternoon rose above 180 grams per cubic metre, one and a half times the acceptable limit, the conference of cantonal directors of public works, land management and the environment said.

The level reached as high as 231 grams in Mendrisio in the canton of Ticino, and measured 201 grams in the Thônex-Foron area of the canton of Geneva, the conference said in a news release.

The directors advised people to reduce activities such as driving or using lawn mowers to reduce polluting emissions.

In the canton of Graubünden in eastern Switzerland, officials say the danger of forest fires has risen to a level three alert (on a scale of one to five).

The hotter than normal weather is expected to last for at least five days, Swiss weather forecasters say.

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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.