While winter has been mild across large parts of North America and Europe, the central and northern Alps have been a notable exception. Since late last week, heavy snow has paralyzed western Austria and southeastern Switzerland. Impressive even by local standards, the snow has buried towns, blocked roads and disrupted rail service in the heart of the Alps (see map).
The most heavily hit areas in Austria’s western Tirol and Vorarlberg regions received 1-2 meters (3-6 ft) of snow in just four days. Local authorities have elevated the avalanche risk warning to “high” as they continue searching for a missing 15-year-old skier near the Austrian city of Innsbruck.
Austria’s national weather service, ZAMG, reports that such copious amounts of snow occur about only once a decade, and in some locations once every 20-25 years.
A summary of snow totals recorded Jan. 5-9, 2012:
· 216 cm (85”) in Hochfilzen (elevation 1000m)
· 177 cm (69.7”) in Langen am Arlberg (elev. 1260m)
· 120 cm (47”) in Nauders (elev. 1340m)
· 72 cm (28.3”) in Landeck (elev. 890 m)
Many locations already had snow on the ground before an intensifying storm dumped several more feet of wintry precipitation over the weekend.
According to the Austrian weather service, some places have not seen snow this deep in over 30 years. With a current snow depth of 120 cm (47 in.), the village of Nauders last saw this much snow on the ground over sixty years ago, in 1951.
The cause of the heavy snow was an intensifying low pressure system named ‘Andrea’ that brought powerful wind gusts to Switzerland late last week. Just outside the city of Zurich, a wind gust of 83 km/h (51.5 mph) was recorded on Jan. 5. At high elevations winds were even stronger, including a 210 km/h (130.5 mph) gust measured at the Great St. Bernard Pass on the border with France.
Considering the lack of snow in the Alps just weeks ago, winter is certainly making up for lost time. A private German weather service reports that six weeks ago, a paltry 19 cm (7.5”) of snow lay at the 9,718-ft summit of the Zugspitze – the least measured in almost 60 years. As of Monday, however, the Zugspitze had a snow depth of 380 cm (150”). This is the most snow measured atop Germany’s highest mountain during the first ten days of January in 30 years.
Ironically, some ski resorts in the Alps are now being forced to close because of too much – not too little – snow.
Heavy snow buries towns and villages along the Timmelsjochstrasse in Tirol, western Austria.
Snow lovers, check out these stunning photos of Alpine villages buried in mounds of white.
Map of recent snow totals in Switzerland (Meteo Suisse)
Beautiful scenes from snowy Germany (Capital Weather Gang)
Atlantic windstorm batters Europe (Capital Weather Gang)
Five feet of snow cripples southeast Alaska towns (Capital Weather Gang)