SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

HEATWAVE

Water flown in by helicopter: How Switzerland has been hit by drought

Parts of Switzerland will get some much-needed rain in the coming days. But will that be enough to fix the current drought situation?

Water flown in by helicopter: How Switzerland has been hit by drought
This photograph taken on July 22, 2022, shows the dried out bed of the Lac des Brenets' part of the Doubs river, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Switzerland is drying up. Extreme heat, with the alpine country going through one of the hottest summers in history, and prolonged drought are transforming the landscape in Switzerland and making authorities take somewhat drastic measures to combat the effects of the climate crisis.

Pastures are in danger of dying in the Alps, so the Swiss army is airlifting water for the cows using helicopters – a measure that has been taken before and should become more common as temperatures rise.

The long dry spell has also impacted Switzerland’s production of milk and cheese, as The Local reported. While some cantons opted to fly water up the Alps, others, such as Vaud, are bringing their cattle to lower ground earlier than usual.

The situation is similarly dire in the canton of Fribourg, where the famous Gruyère cheese has been produced for centuries.

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

“The situation is tense, even critical”, according to Frédéric Ménétrey, director of the Fribourg Chamber of Agriculture, who said that 15 alpine pastures that are inaccessible by road are being supplied by private helicopters.

With a “lack of water and dry grass”, milk production could be reduced by “20 to 30 percent”, Said Dominique de Buman, president of the Fribourg Cooperative of Alpine Cheese Producers.

Different trails and views

Some classic Swiss hiking routes had to be closed off as warmer temperatures speed up glacier melt, making them full of hazards like falling rocks released from the ice. Once green mountains are becoming arider, transforming Switzerland into Tuscany.

The transformations will have a significant effect on a country with a tourism industry heavily dependent on winter and skiing. Some cantons have covered glaciers to protect them from melting – again, not a new measure, but one that should become more necessary in the future.

The arid look extends to the famous Swiss lakes, with many of them at historic low points this season. Rivers are also low on water, exposing banks and creating dry islands. Even from one year to another, the change is evident:

As water temperatures rise, fish are also in danger. The Swiss Fisheries Federation (SPF) has warned of fish deaths in “historic proportions” nationwide due to persistent heat and high exploitation of rivers for electricity generation.

In Schaffhausen, authorities have fished out stocks and brought them to cooler zones, as hot water temperatures can be deadly for the animals.

The risk of forest fires is also extremely high, with the entire country currently in danger of wildfires, as The Local reported. The risk is higher in the south of Switzerland.

READ ALSO: MAP: The Swiss regions in danger of wildfires and the measures in place to avoid them

Rain prospects offer little hope

The weather is about to change this week in Switzerland, Meteonews reports.

While some areas of Switzerland have been hit by thunderstorms in the past days, providing some relief for agriculture and nature in general, the amount of rain has not been sufficient to counteract the effects of the drought that has impacted much of the country.

However, as rainfall is expected in much of the country, there could be some relief – though “it would take several weeks of almost daily rain to see a real and lasting improvement”, meteorologist Vincent Devantay said.

The rain will also bring in “much cooler temperatures”, but the summer weather will come back from Sunday, “with increasingly warm temperatures and no clear deterioration is in sight for the future”.

READ ALSO: Switzerland to get rain this week — at last

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CLIMATE CRISIS

‘By a substantial margin’: How summer 2022 was Europe’s hottest on record

The summer of 2022 was the hottest in Europe's recorded history, with the continent suffering blistering heatwaves and the worst drought in centuries, the European Commission's satellite monitor said on Thursday.

'By a substantial margin': How summer 2022 was Europe's hottest on record

The five hottest years on record have all come since 2016 as climate change drives ever longer and stronger hot spells and drier soil conditions.

And that created tinderbox forests, increasing the risk of devastating and sometimes deadly wildfires.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said temperatures in Europe had been the “highest on record for both the month of August and the summer (June-August) as a whole”.

Data showed August was the hottest on the continent since records began in 1979 by a “substantial margin”, beating the previous record set in August 2021 by 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 Fahrenheit). Temperatures from June through to August 2022 were 1.34C hotter than the historical 1991-2020 average, while August itself was 1.72C higher than average.

READ ALSO: ‘A code red’: Will Europeans change their habits after climate crisis reality check?

An aerial view taken on August 4, 2022 in Les Brenets shows the dry bed of Brenets Lake (Lac des Brenets), part of the Doubs River, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland, as much of Europe bakes in a third heatwave since June. – The river has dried up due to a combination of factors, including geological faults that drain the river, decreased rainfall and heatwaves. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

That puts summer in Europe well within the temperature range at which the Paris Agreement on climate change seeks to limit global heating.

The 2015 accord commits nations to cap average global temperatures at “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to strive for a safer guardrail of 1.5C.

Although satellite data only stretches back a few decades, a Copernicus spokeswoman told AFP the service was confident that 2022 was the hottest summer in Europe going as far back as 1880 — at the early stage of the industrial age.

Europe has been battered by a string of heatwaves this year, with temperature records tumbling in many countries and the mercury topping 40C for the first time in Britain.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) said last month that 2022 was already a record year for wildfires, with nearly 660,000 hectares torched in Europe since January.

‘Summer of extremes’

CAMS said fires in France had seen the highest levels of carbon pollution from wildfires since records began in 2003.

The EU said last month that the current drought parching the continent was the worst in at least 500 years.

The European Commission’s Global Drought Observatory latest bulletin said 47 percent of the continent is currently covered by drought warnings — meaning the soil is drying out.

An additional 17 percent is under drought alert, meaning that vegetation is showing signs of stress, fuelling concerns about the continent’s autumn harvest.

“An intense series of heatwaves across Europe, paired with unusually dry conditions, have led to a summer of extremes with records in terms of temperature, drought and fire activity in many parts of Europe, affecting society and nature in various ways,” said senior C3S scientist Freja Vamborg.

“Data shows that we’ve not only had record August temperatures for Europe but also for summer, with the previous summer record only being one year old.”

On a global level, August 2022 was the joint warmest August on record. The average temperature was 0.3C higher than the 1991-2020 average for the month, the monitor said.

SHOW COMMENTS