Germany braces for more snow as extreme winter weather causes travel chaos

Blizzards and very low temperatures have caused chaos in parts of Germany over the weekend. And more is forecast this week.

Germany braces for more snow as extreme winter weather causes travel chaos
A snowy scene in Erfurt Thuringia early on Monday morning. Photo: DPA

After the severe onset of winter in many regions of Germany over the weekend, extreme weather is expected to continue on Monday.

On Sunday night, the German Weather Service (DWD) warned of heavy snowfall with around 10 to 25 centimetres of fresh snow expected in the first half of the day in the centre of Germany.

Northeast Hesse, Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt are particularly affected. A warning for heavy snow was issued on Monday for these areas. Other states are affected by very low temperatures, ice and snowfall too, including Berlin and Brandenburg.

As this tweet by DWD shows, temperatures dropped sharply overnight, with the lowest recorded at the Brocken. in the Harz mountain range in Saxony-Anhalt, with -16C.

Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, of the conservatives, advised people in Germany affected by the snow chaos to stay at home at the beginning of the week.

READ ALSO: Weird weather – temperatures between -7C and up to 20C expected in Germany

Drivers stuck in snow

The snow has resulted in trucks and cars becoming stuck in traffic jams on Germany's Autobahn network for several hours, while gritting vehicles cannot get through.

On some stretches of road, especially in the centre and east of the country, there's been chaos with huge traffic jams.

On Monday morning lorries were stuck on the Autobahn after after heavy snowfall, including in the north and east of Hesse on the A4 and A7.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said a police spokesman in Fulda in the morning. In some places, trucks and cars were stuck in traffic jams for over six hours.

Authorities have warned people against travel in affected regions, and have urged lorry drivers not to drive on the Autobahn.

Lorries stuck near Gera on Monday. Photo: DPA

Disrupted rail services and cancellations

“Snow and ice will continue to affect local and long-distance DB traffic in large parts of the country on Monday,” rail operator Deutsche Bahn said. Travellers have been asked to “use DB's numerous information channels to find out about their connection before setting off”.

DB offered refunds for people affected by cancelled services, or a chance to rebook the journey.

A heavy blizzard caused traffic chaos in parts of Germany on Sunday. In some places, more than 30cm of snow fell, in addition to drifts. The police and fire brigade were called out several times.

There were major restrictions on regional and long-distance rail services, while a Bundesliga football match had to be cancelled.

The DWD had last week warned of a winter weekend of extremes, with the lower half of the country seeing mild temperatures, and the northern half experiencing extreme winter weather.

On Saturday it remained fairly calm. As a precaution, all long-distance trains between Hamburg and Kiel, Hamburg and Lübeck and between Hamburg and Westerland were cancelled over the weekend

READ ALSO: What happened in Germany's catostrophic winter of 78/79?

On Sunday, however, weather chaos set in. Here's a rundown of some major incidents across the country so far:

– The police had to close icy roads and there were hundreds of accidents. Trains were cancelled due to frozen overhead lines. As we mentioned above, cars and trucks have been getting stuck in deep snowdrifts.

– A train with about 25 passengers was stranded at the Hundertwasser railway station in Uelzen, Lower Saxony. Rescue workers from the German Red Cross (DRK) arrived late on Sunday to provide the passengers with blankets and hot drinks. The passengers were not able to continue their journey until Monday morning.

– In Thuringia, a family of three got their car stuck in the snow. According to police, the vehicle came to a standstill near Sömmerda on Sunday evening. The family tried for hours to free the car from the snow and finally dialled the emergency services around midnight. The parents and their seven-year-old daughter had to be rescued by the fire brigade and were taken to an emergency shelter.

An icy train in Hanover, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

– In Braunschweig, the fire brigade recovered a tram carriage that had fallen off the rails due to snow. The wagon belonged to a special vehicle with a snow plough, which was being used to try and get rid of the masses of snow, a fire brigade spokesperson said. Rescue workers used a truck-mounted crane to lift the wagon, which weighed several tonnes, back onto the track. According to the fire brigade, snowdrifts up to 70 cm high were piling up in the Braunschweig area.

– In Duisburg, the fire brigade had to be called in because five houses directly on the Rhine were cut off from the outside world by the snowdrifts.

– Several cities in Hesse completely suspended bus services, including in Kassel and Marburg an der Lahn.

– In Berlin there are restrictions on the Autobahn network, with people told not to drive faster than 60km/h. Extremely slippery conditions are to be expected on the capital's roads.

What can we expect from the weather this week?

A low pressure area dubbed “Tristan” coming over central Europe and the central Mediterranean, together with high pressure area “Gisela” from Scandinavia, will bring further icy air to Germany this week.

READ ALSO: Why Germany is facing extreme winter weather this month

“After the snowy and windy weekend, the big cold snap is now coming at us from the east,” said meteorologist Simon Trippler of the DWD on Sunday.

Snow is still to be expected, although it will not fall as heavily as at the weekend, he said. On Tuesday, the snowfall will mostly recede, except on the coast. Low temperatures are expected for the rest of the week.

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Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

The more the sun shines in the southern German town of Aurach, the more likely it is that Jens Husemann's solar panels will be disconnected from the grid -- an exasperating paradox at a time when Germany is navigating an energy supply crisis.

Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

“It’s being switched off every day,” Husemann told AFP during a recent sunny spell, saying there had been more than 120 days of forced shutdowns so far this year.

Husemann, who runs an energy conversion business near Munich, also owns a sprawling solar power system on the flat roof of a transport company in Aurach, Bavaria.

The energy generated flows into power lines run by grid operator N-Ergie, which then distributes it on the network.

But in sunny weather, the power lines are becoming overloaded — leading the grid operator to cut off supply from the solar panels.

“It’s a betrayal of the population,” said Husemann, pointing to soaring electricity prices and a continued push to install more solar panels across Germany.

Europe’s biggest economy is eyeing an ambitious switch to renewables making up 80 percent of its electricity from 2030 in a bid to go carbon neutral.

N-ergie thermal power station

The thermal power station of energy supplier N-Ergie in Nuremberg, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a spanner in the works.

Moscow has cut gas supplies to Germany by 80 percent, in what is believed to be a bid to weaken the European powerhouse’s resolve in backing Ukraine.

READ ALSO: OPINION: How many massacres will it take for Germany to turn off Russian gas?

As a result, Berlin has been scrambling for alternative sources across the world to replace the shortfall.

This makes it all the more frustrating for Husemann, whose solar panels normally generate enough electricity for 50 households. With the repeated shutdowns, he suspects they will only supply half of their capacity by the end
of the year.

Grid bottlenecks

Grid operator N-Ergie, which is responsible for harvesting electricity from Husemann’s panels, admits the situation is less than ideal.

There were 257 days last year when it had to cut off supply from solar panels on parts of the grid.

“We are currently witnessing — and this is a good thing — an unprecedented boom in photovoltaic parks,” Rainer Kleedoerfer, head of N-Ergie’s development department, told AFP.

An employee of energy supplier N-ERGIE working at the company's network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany. 

An employee of energy supplier N-Ergie working at the company’s network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany.  (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But while it takes just a couple of years to commission a solar power plant, updating the necessary infrastructure takes between five and 10 years, he said.

“The number of interventions and the amount of curtailed energy have increased continuously in recent years” as a result, according to N-Ergie spokesman Michael Enderlein.

“The likelihood is that grid bottlenecks will actually increase in the coming years,” while resolving them will take several more years, Enderlein said.

According to Carsten Koenig, managing director of the German Solar Industry Association, the problem is not unique to solar power and also affects wind energy.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

Solar bottlenecks tend to be regional and temporary, he said. “Occasionally, however, we hear that especially in rural areas in Bavaria, the shutdowns are more frequent.”

2.4 million households

Koenig agrees the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“This will be especially true if political measures aimed at sufficiently expanding the power grid in Germany… drag on for too long,” he said.

Some 6.1 terawatt hours of electricity from renewables had to be curtailed in 2020, according to the most recent figures available.

With an average consumption of around 2,500 kilowatt hours per year in a two-person household, this would have been enough to power around 2.4 million households.

A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Network Agency said it did not share the belief that “it will not be possible to expand the network in line with demand in the coming years”.

Only some aspects of the expansion are seeing delays, the spokesman said — mainly due to slow approval procedures and a lack of specialist companies to do the work.

According to Husemann there have also been delays to the payments he is supposed to receive in return for the solar power he supplies — or cannot supply.

He said he is already owed around 35,000 euros ($35,600) for electricity produced so far this year that has never found its way into a socket.