Subzero weather to end mild autumn conditions

Mild, sunny conditions in Switzerland are set to give way to plunging temperatures and snow this weekend as a storm from northeastern Europe, packing strong winds, heads to the Alpine country, forecasters say.

Subzero weather to end mild autumn conditions
Blue skies — and no snow — at Chateau d'Oex in the Vaud Alps as seen in this webcam shot from Wednesday. Photo: MeteoSwiss

Autumn has been largely dry and warmer than usual with highs of 18C in Basel on Wednesday and 17C in Geneva under sunny skies, according to MeteoSwiss, while high mountain passes have remained snow-free.

The benign weather is forecast to continue across most of the country on Thursday before the edge of the storm hits on Friday.

Heavy rain will hit most of the country accompanied by strong winds that will intensify on Saturday and Sunday when snow is forecast on the Swiss plateau for the first time this fall and in mountain regions.

Snow is not expected to linger in the valleys but temperatures will likely drop below zero on Sunday and Monday in many parts of the country, the outlook from the national weather office said.

Many Swiss mountain passes normally closed at this time of year, have stayed open because of the balmy climate.

But this week they are starting to close for the winter season.

The Gotthard road pass straddling the border of the cantons of Uri and Ticino was set to close on Wednesday at 6pm, a day after the Susten Pass, also in Uri, shut down.

The Klausen (Uri/Glarus) and Furka (Uri/Valais) passes are programmed to close on Thursday.  

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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.