‘Highest winds in history’: Hurricane sweeps across Switzerland

Hurricane Petra has swept across Switzerland on Monday night and Tuesday morning, causing damage, electricity shortages and road closures.

'Highest winds in history': Hurricane sweeps across Switzerland
A storm sweeps over Lake Geneva (illustration photo). Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The hurricane brought with it the highest winds seen in the country since 1981. 

Thousands of damage reports flooded in from across the country, with disruptions to the electricity service as well as road closures across the country. 

Police said that the major issues were caused by trees falling on roads and houses, while wind also blew barriers from construction sites, portable toilets and trampolines away.

Although there were some reports of car accidents and injuries, so far nobody has been killed in the storm front.  

More inclement weather is predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday as temperatures drop across the region, although winds are expect to ease from Tuesday afternoon onwards. 

Winds of more than 170km/h were recorded by the Swiss meteorology service in the Napf and Bantiger mountains in Bern. This is the highest wind reading ever recorded in Switzerland since record keeping began in 1981. 

The previous high was recorded during Hurricane Vivian in February of 1990. 

While the highest winds were recorded in the country’s mountainous regions, wind gauges were also challenged in the Swiss lowlands.

Near Zurich highs of 129km/h were recorded, with the fire department deployed more than 200 times in that region alone. 

Several other areas which are usually sheltered from high winds recorded gusts of more than 100km/h. 

Extreme weather breeds extreme weather

The major reason for the storm front was two contrasting episodes of extreme weather. 

Before the storm, temperatures across Switzerland reached highs of 20 degrees – breaking February records – before a cold front moved in. 

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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.