In recent weeks, temperatures have mostly been well above average – especially at high altitudes. What is the current snow situation in the mountains?
The answer is: it depends! Both December and January brought above-average amounts of precipitation, although the snow line varied greatly. On two occasions, a blanket of snow formed in the Swiss Plateau for a few days, but then it rained again, sometimes up to over 2000 meters. In recent weeks, the weather has been characterized by high pressure for a long time, with precipitation only occurring sporadically. At least some fresh snow fell from time to time at higher altitudes – but the amounts were limited. Very mild air masses repeatedly reached the Alpine region, with the zero degree line rising to over 3000 meters in some places. It rarely dropped below 2000 meters. On Mount Pilatus, for example, January 20 was the last day with permanent frost, otherwise the daily maximum was always in the positive range. On 7 days during this period, it was even frost-free throughout! The combination of sun, wind and mild temperatures has had a massive impact on the snow at low altitudes. At altitudes of around 1000 meters, there are only artificial snow bands at most, and ski resorts at these altitudes are generally unable to operate. Along the foothills of the Alps, the snow conditions are also well below average between 1500 and 2000 meters, as the view from Rigi towards Rotstock (1658 m) shows.
Fig. 1: View from the Rigi towards Rotstock (center); Source: Roundshot
On Säntis (2502 m), on the other hand, there is a lot of snow for the time of year.
Fig. 2: Development of snow depth on the Säntis compared to historical mean and extreme values; Source: Zimmerberg Risk Analytics, myweather.ch
In the inner Alps, the snow depth from around 2000 meters is within the range of the long-term average, and along the Glarus Alps and in Graubünden above 2400 to 2500 meters it is even above average.
Fig. 3: Current snow depth compared with the long-term average for February 7; Source: WSL-Institut für Schnee- und Lawinenforschung SLF
This means that there is sufficient snow in the higher ski areas, while the valley descents are not possible or only possible with artificial snow. The approaching foehn will further worsen this situation. There is generally less snow on the southern side of the Alps, but in the coming days there will be a southerly accumulation. By midday on Sunday, 50 to 100 mm of precipitation will fall here, with the snow line varying between 1200 and 1600 meters – depending on the intensity and the valley. At higher altitudes, there will be between 50 and 100 centimetres of fresh snow.
The content of this article has been at least partially computer translated from another language. Therefore, grammatical errors or inaccuracies are possible. Please note that the original language version of the article should be considered authoritative.