Switzerland at high risk of avalanches after storm Burglind

Major avalanches are to be expected in the coming days in Switzerland after heavy snowfalls in the mountains and storm-force winds.

Switzerland at high risk of avalanches after storm Burglind
The red marked areas show the highest avalanche risk. Photo: SLF

“Large parts of Switzerland are affected,” Christine Pielmeier of the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF told public broadcaster SRF.

Pielmeier said there had been over a meter of new snow in the canton of Valais over the past three days, and half a meter had fallen on the north side of the Alps.

In addition, storm Burglind that hit Switzerland with force on Wednesday had caused layers of snow to shift.

The researcher said more snow – between 50 and 70 centimeters – was expected to fall in the Alps on Thursday and the strong winds would continue.

A further concern was that the snow line was expected to rise to 2,000 meters over the course of Thursday.

This meant that the new snow at lower levels could be saturated with rain and become unstable.

“The avalanche situation is very dangerous in many parts of the Alps at the moment,” Peilmeier said, warning that major avalanches could come down into the valleys.

Skiing off-piste was currently “very dangerous”, the SLF researcher said.

She warned that the high level of risk will remain at least until Friday.

The threat of avalanches has closed train lines over the Furka and Oberalp passes in Valais, Blick reported.

Storm Burglind caused wide scale weather chaos and damage as it swept across Switzerland on Wednesday with gusts of up to 130 kmh in low-lying areas.

Around 70 takeoffs and landings were affected at Zurich airport and numerous train lines were disrupted.


Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert

Due to the heavy snowfall in recent days and more expected until the weekend, an avalanche warning is issued for Switzerland’s southern canton of Valais.

Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert
Avalanche warnings should be taken very seriously. Photo by AFP

Valais authorities said the current avalanche risk level is between 4 and 5, meaning ‘high’ to ‘extreme’.

The population is urged to stay at home. When out, they should obey the signs and especially stay away from the avalanche corridors, officials warned.

Significant amounts of snow have fallen in the area in recent days, dumping 1 metre of snow above the altitude of 2,000 metres in the upper part of the canton. Between 30 and 40 centimetres are still expected. 

The highest risk of avalanches is in the Goms valley, the Zermatt valley, as well as the entire right bank of the Rhône. 

Some particularly threatened areas could even be evacuated, authorities said.

People planning to go skiing in Valais over the next few days should check snow conditions and avalanche warnings in place, especially as many roads, mainly in Upper Valais, are cut off, and a number of villages in the Goms Valley, Lötschental and the Zermatt region are no longer accessible by road or train. 

The Avalanche Bulletin is a good source of information not just for Valais, but for all of Switzerland’s mountain regions.

READ MORE: Is the pandemic to blame for Switzerland's spate of avalanche deaths? 

Avalanches have been particularly deadly in Switzerland this winter, having claimed 14 lives so far — well above the average yearly figure of eight people.

Avalanches have caused casualties in the mountains of Valais, Vaud, Graubünden, Obwalden and Schwyz. 

With many people concerned about the potential for contracting coronavirus on the slopes, the idea of skiing off piste has become more attractive. 

But this practice can trigger massive avalanches, so it is crucial to stay away from unsecured slopes.

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread