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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

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WEATHER

Avalanches in Switzerland kill two

Avalanches in Switzerland have left two people dead, leading officials to warn on Saturday of the risks posed by particularly unstable snow cover. A further eight people have died in neighbouring Austria

Avalanches in Switzerland kill two

In Switzerland, two off-piste skiers were killed by an avalanche Saturday morning in the southeastern canton of Graubuenden, the cantonal police said.

A third member of the group was caught up in the flow of snow but managed to escape unharmed, local police said in a statement.

The two skiers who died were a 56-year-old woman and a 52-year-old man, said police.

The rescue operation there was hampered by poor visibility and bad weather conditions, police said.

In Austria, the body of a 59-year-old man buried while helping the snow removal effort in his tractor was recovered, police in Austria’s western Tyrol region said on Sunday.

Two skiers aged 29 and 33, including a guide, who were carried off-piste on Saturday morning, were found dead in Sankt Anton am Arlberg.

And a 62-year-old man, who had not returned after cross-country skiing around the summit of Hohe Aifner, was recovered by rescuers and could not be revived, a police spokesman told AFP.

The authorities declined to give information on the nationality of the four victims recovered Sunday.

These deaths are in addition to the three killed on Saturday who were visiting Austria’s Alpine regions.

“One winter sports enthusiast was killed in an avalanche in Kaltenbach on Saturday,” a police spokesman told AFP, without giving further details of the
accident in the small Alpine village.

Austrian news agency APA reported that the victim was a 17-year-old New Zealander who was skiing off-piste.

On Friday, a 32-year-old Chinese man, who was also said to be skiing away from the designated routes, died in an avalanche in the resort of Soelden.

A third victim was found dead Saturday after being reported missing the previous day. APA reported that the man, in his 50s, had died in the Kleinwalsertal valley on Austria’s border with Germany.
   
Over the past two days, intensive snowfall and wind have increased the avalanche danger.

The officials in Austria have warned winter sports enthusiasts to exercise caution.

Despite the alert level being set at four on a scale of five however, many holidaymakers have ventured off the marked slopes, authorities said.

The avalanche situation also led to numerous rescue operations on Saturday, which were themselves made more dangerous by the weather conditions.

With the February school holidays underway in Vienna, Austria’s resorts have filled up, after a poor start to the season because of the lack of snow at low and medium altitudes.

In recent years, in Austria, a leading winter sports destination, avalanches have killed around twenty people a year.

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