Skiers left disappointed as snow steers clear of Swiss slopes

As if last year wasn't bad enough, a lack of snow at Alpine ski resorts during the Christmas period has left some slopes completely bare.

Skiers left disappointed as snow steers clear of Swiss slopes
A lack of snow has left Swiss ski slopes bare again this season. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

And as temperatures rise to unseasonable highs, there is little sign of much snow falling before the end of the year.

Several resorts, including the popular Charmey, where no snow has fallen since December 19th, have closed due to the mild weather. The situation is much the same as the 2015 season, when snow didn't arrive until the middle of January.

Temperatures in the Ticino region hit 20.9 degrees Celsius on Christmas Day, the highest recorded in 40 years, according to Meteonews.

In Valais and Graubünden, which border Italy, temperatures reached between 12 and 15 degrees Celsius, while they were around nine degrees Celsius in the lower lying regions north of the Alps.

2016 has been one of the ten warmest since Swiss records began in 1864, MeteoSuisse reported on Friday.

As a whole the year was 0.6-0.7 degrees warmer than normal across Switzerland, the federal weather office said in its round-up of the year's weather, earning 2016 a place in the top ten mildest years on record.

Switzerland’s temperatures are in line with the global trend, with 2016 set to be the hottest year on record across the world,  the World Meteorological Organization said in November. 

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What’s next after Switzerland’s ‘extremely worrying’ heatwave?

Switzerland hit record high temperatures for June for the first time in 75 years on Sunday but what's the forecast for the coming days and weeks?

What's next after Switzerland's 'extremely worrying' heatwave?

With 36.9C recorded in Beznau, in the canton of Aargau on Sunday, Switzerland equalled the high temperature record held by Basel since 1947.

Other Swiss towns experienced sweltering temperatures as well: In Neuchâtel the mercury rose to 36.5C, in Sion it hit 36.4C and  in Lausanne it was 32.6C, according to MeteoNews.

Temperatures were decidedly more pleasant at high altitudes in the mountains: the temperature of 16.9C was recorded at 2,900 metres in the shade on the Diablerets glacier.

Whilst lower down at the Moléson in Fribourg, which stands at 2,000 metres, a more seasonal 24 degrees was recorded.

Like its neighbours, “Switzerland is not immune to brief and extreme phenomena”, climatologist Martin Beniston, honorary professor at the University of Geneva, said in an interview with Tribune de Genève.

And if high temperatures continue — as they are forecast for next days — “the very dry ground will reinforce the warming, it is a vicious circle”, said Vincent Devantay, meteorologist from MeteoNews.

This means higher risk of fires, especially in the forest. “They have really dried up compared to last year. The lack of rain is becoming extremely worrying”, he pointed out.

Thunderstorms are predicted in parts of Switzerland towards the end of the week but they will not necessarily prevent the drought, Beniston said.

What the soil needs are “gentle showers, repeated, for two to three weeks”, rather than occasional heavy thunderstorms that don’t provide enough moisture for the earth’s deeper layers.

Continued rains are not expected in the immediate future and  forecasts for the summer months predict more intense heatwaves.

READ MORE: How this week’s heatwave will hit Switzerland and how to stay cool

What are the consequences of the heatwave and no rain?

As The Local already reported, Swiss glaciers are now melting faster than usual, partly due to the early heat wave in May.
READ MORE: Why Switzerland’s glaciers are melting faster than usual this summer

But there is more.

Hydrologist Massimiliano Zappa, also warns that current very high temperatures and no rain could speed up the drought across Switzerland, especially as Swiss rivers and streams “have a lower flow than the average of previous years”.

Water rationing could become inevitable, he said.

 “In Spain and southern Italy, for example, people know how to get by with little water, because they have been educated to meet their daily needs with less. But this is not part of Swiss mentality”, Zappa said.

The heat wave could also impact railway installations as well as electronic devices, according to Le Temps newspaper.

“Overheated smartphones, expanding rails, and computer fans running at full speed: high temperatures put a strain on infrastructure and our everyday objects, while requiring more energy”, Le Temps said.