Heatwave smashes Swiss Alps temperature record

Switzerland, which is caught in Europe's extreme heatwave, has seen freezing point rise way above its highest summits, smashing a record set 27 years ago, meteorologists said on Monday.

This photograph taken near Gletsch, in the Swiss Alps, on July 8, 2022 shows insulating foam covering a part of the Rhone Glacier to prevent it from melting. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This photograph taken near Gletsch, in the Swiss Alps, on July 8, 2022 shows insulating foam covering a part of the Rhone Glacier to prevent it from melting. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Scientists say human-induced climate change is amplifying the record heatwaves seen in several parts of the planet in recent weeks.

Weather balloons rose to 5,184 metres (17,008 feet) above the Alpine country overnight before they found freezing point (0 degrees Celsius, 32 degrees Fahrenheit), MeteoSwiss said in a tweet.

That was nearly 70 metres higher than the previous Swiss record of 5,117 metres, measured on July 20, 1995, and 375 metres above the summit of Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc in the French Alps. It is extremely rare for the freezing point to be measured above 5,000 metres in Europe.

Leading Swiss glaciologist Matthias Huss warned this month that rising temperatures were causing freshwater glaciers to melt faster than ever.

“Glaciers in the Alps are so completely off from what we’ve seen before. I’m really alarmed by the situation,” he tweeted on July 17.

READ MORE: Why getting permission for air conditioners is so hard in Switzerland

“The measurements collected at Griesgletscher today show that even with respect to the previous record in 2003 we’re one month ahead with melting. And no relief in sight.”

Global warming is also pushing wild species that live in cold climes further up the mountains to survive.

When they reach the summits, they have nowhere to go.

The international community has agreed that climate change poses an existential threat to human systems and the natural world — but there are a myriad ways to take action.

READ MORE: How to keep your cool during Switzerland’s heatwave

Meteorologists determine the zero-degree limit above Switzerland using weather balloons launched twice a day from Payerne, in the west of the country, the RTS public broadcaster said French meteorologists also measured 0C above 5,000 metres on Sunday over Bordeaux (5,056 metres) in the west.

The warm air then moved east towards the Alps, MeteoSwiss said.

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‘Don’t sleep naked’: How to get a good night’s sleep in a Swiss heatwave

As temperatures climb again, many people may struggle to get a good night's sleep in Switzerland. Here are some expert tips to help you even when it's sweltering hot.

‘Don’t sleep naked’: How to get a good night’s sleep in a Swiss heatwave

Switzerland’s summers tend to get hotter and this season has seen its share of heatwaves, bringing temperatures closer to 40C and making it almost impossible to sleep.

This could mean trouble for residents of a country better prepared to bear the cold weather than the extreme heat.

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has three ‘golden rules’ for how to make it through heatwaves; avoid exercise during the hottest part of the day, keep the heat out of your house however you can, drink and eat smart (fresh foods and lots of water).

With night temperatures in some regions above 20C, Swiss residents will also need some help getting through the night.

Here are a few tips to keep cool overnight and enjoy better sleep despite the heat of the night.

Don’t sleep naked

It’s tempting to ditch the PJs when it’s this warm overnight. But sleep experts say this is a mistake, as any moisture from sweat accumulates on your body.

Cotton pyjamas and cotton sheets are very effective in absorbing and removing sweat from your body.

Give a little help to your internal clock

Many people think that it is only the extreme heat in summer making your sleep seem a bit worse than in the colder months. But the fact that days are brighter for longer makes a huge difference.

READ ALSO: How Switzerland’s largest cities are combating the heat

As light suppresses our body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that signals that it is time to sleep, the longer days irritate our internal clock, according to sleep experts.

The old tip of turning off your devices to avoid the blue light is also extra crucial. So around one hour before going to bed, you can start your “darkening” ritual throughout your home.

In that sense, it’s also better to avoid naps during the day to keep a better sleep routine.

Try to cool your room and yourself

Of course, the cooler temperatures are in your bedroom when you go to sleep, the better. You can help get temperatures a few degrees down by following these tips: keep the blinds and windows shut during the worst of the day and ventilate the cooler night breeze during the night.

Sleeping during a heatwave can be difficult. Photo: Yuris Alhumaydy / Unsplash

You can also moisten your curtains just before bedtime and leave the window open; the water evaporation will make it a bit cooler. If you can, another tip is to put your mattress on the floor as hot air rises – excellent advice for those sleeping on a bunk bed.

Don’t forget to turn off (and unplug!) electrical appliances, as those are heat sources.

READ ALSO: Eight great swimming spots to escape the Swiss summer heat

To cool yourself, you could take a lukewarm evening shower (not a hot one, those will make your body react by generating heat).

Fans and humidity help

As long as you’ve kept your room relatively cool, fans work. They help evaporate sweat which, in turn, helps your body regulate its temperature.

Putting a bowl of ice in front of the fan can also help cool the room.

Some people swear by dampening their sheets before going to bed. But if you’re not used to it, the feeling can be a little disconcerting. You can also place multiple ice containers in the corners of your room, which will melt slowly overnight and cool the air.

Why is it essential to have a good night’s sleep?

Several days of scorching temperatures can cause heat stress, according to the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.

If the nights are not cool enough, the body can’t recover from the heat of the day, creating a dangerous condition called “thermal stress”, which can be fatal for the elderly and other vulnerable people.

While there are no statistics showing how many people have fallen victim to heat stress during the most recent heatwave, several cantons have implemented a system of home visits and frequent phone contact with this at-risk group.

READ MORE: How to keep your cool during Switzerland’s heatwave