Storm expected to bring snow to Swiss plateau

Following several days of rain in lower altitude areas of Switzerland, a storm is expected to bring more precipitation, high winds and cooler temperatures to the country on Tuesday.

Storm expected to bring snow to Swiss plateau
Flooding in the village of Wolhusen, near Lucerne. Photo: Lucerne cantonal police

Snow is forecast at altitudes above 600 metres, Meteonews said in a news release on Monday.

Winds are expected to grow in strength with gusts from 70 to 90 kilometres an hour in the plateau area (the region between the Jura and the Alps) on Wednesday, the weather service said.

Gusts of between 120 and 140 km/h are predicted for Alpine peaks.

Weather experts anticipate snow to hit the plateau for the first time this season on Wednesday followed by a period of calm until a fresh weather disturbance arrives on Friday night.

Heavy precipitation over the past few days has triggered landslides and flooding in various parts of Switzerland, while boosting the avalanche risks in mountain regions.

The avalanche danger is particularly high in the canton of Valais, where a metre of fresh snow is expected in the Alps this week.

After an absence of snow in December, ski resorts have struggled to get operations up and running with rain hampering conditions in several resorts at the weekend.

The men's alpine skiing World Cup giant slalom event at Swiss venue Adelboden was cancelled on Saturday after rain badly degraded the slopes, organizers announced. 

Rain also played havoc at the weekend in Cuarny, a village in the canton of Vaud near Yverdons-les-Bains.

A water-saturated garden above a water reserve for fire fighting collapsed into it on Sunday, creating a “tsunami”-like wall of water that poured into the underground garage of a neighbouring property, the ATS news agency reported.

Residents were briefly evacuated but no-one was injured by the incident.

Elsewhere in the canton of Vaud, a landslide on Monday morning blocked the road between the villages of Burtigny and Gilly after a stream overflowed its banks.

In the canton of Lucerne, the main road of the village of Wolhusen was flooded early on Monday after 5,000 cubic metres of rock fell from a cliff into the Kleine Emme river, diverting the course of the water.

Around 20 people were evacuated but no-one was hurt, although damage was substantial, Lucerne cantonal police said.

The road linking Wolhusen to Entlebuch, west of the city of Lucerne, was closed because of the high water.

Eighty fire fighters called to the scene erected a 25-metre long dike to redirect water back into the river, police said.

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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.