On a swath stretching from France to Poland, with the Alps at the centre, many parts of Europe were experiencing unseasonably warm weather, reviving concerns about temperature upheaval linked to climate change.
Patches of grass, rock and dirt were visible this week in some of Europe’s skiing meccas, such as France’s Chamonix, Innsbruck in Austria and Crans-Montana in Switzerland.
Over the New Year’s weekend, Switzerland recorded its highest-ever January temperatures north of the Alps with thermometers hitting 20.2 degrees Celsius (68.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the town of Delemont.
MeteoSwiss, Switzerland’s national weather and climate service, said January heat records fell at several monitoring stations on the north side of the Alps mountain range, due to warm winds from the southwest.
The 20.2 C temperature recorded in Delemont was due to mild southwesterly winds combining with the Foehn effect – a dry, warm, downslope wind on the downwind side of a mountain range – coming off the Jura mountains, said the agency.
Temperatures in Delemont were hovering more than 16 degrees above the 1991-2020 average for the turn of the year, giving weather “worthy of June”, it added.
Delemont is the capital of the northwestern Jura region, which borders France.
‘Everything is difficult’
The shortage has been particularly burdensome around Switzerland’s Adelboden, which is set to host World Cup skiing tournament, and generally draws 25,000 fans for a single day of racing.
Course director Toni Hadi acknowledged that the race will be run on 100% artificial snow this year.
“The climate is a bit changing but what should we do here? Shall we stop with life?” he said by phone, noting that other challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic and war show “life is not easy” these days.
“Everything is difficult – not only to prepare a ski slope,” Hadi said.
The start to 2023 picked up where many countries had already left off: Last year was the hottest on record in both Switzerland and France. More broadly, the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation says the past eight years are on track to be the eight warmest on record. Its final tally on global temperature figures for 2022 will be released in mid-January.
‘Good start’ to season followed by warm weather
In France, national weather agency Meteo France said 2022 ended with some of the warmest weather the country has ever experienced at this time of year – capping an exceptionally warm year that saw temperature records broken and rampant forest fires and drought conditions.
Météo France says the southern Alps and, in the northern Alps, slopes above 2,200 metres, have seen close to normal snowfalls. But snow is notably lacking at lower altitudes in the northern Alps and across the Pyrenees, it said.
To be sure, the Alps cover a lot of territory and not all of it is bereft of snow: Perhaps counterintuitively, some of the best snowfall has been reported in the Italian Dolomites, to the south of the Swiss Alps.
Early in the ski season, fortunes looked bright for snow lovers: In France, freezing weather into mid-December raised hopes that ski resorts in the Alps, the Pyrenees and elsewhere might see plenty of early snow and the lasting subzero temperatures needed to keep runs open.
But exceptionally warm weather followed, prompting some resorts at lower altitudes to close down as snow cover melted away.
“There was a good start to the season with a cold wave in mid-December which provided some white to pretty much everyone. Then, last week, there was quite a bit of rain and warm temperatures, so a certain number of runs had to close again,” Laurent Reynaud of the Domaines Skiables de France industry group that represents French ski resorts, lift operators and others, said on C-News television.
It’s ‘just going to be over’
Germany too has seen unusually springlike temperatures – as high as 16 degrees Celsius (61 Fahrenheit) in parts of the country on Monday. New Year’s Eve is believed to have been the warmest since reliable records began. The German Weather Service reported readings of 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and just above at four weather stations in southern Germany, news agency dpa reported.
Wim Thiery, a professor of climate science at the University of Brussels, said the same jet stream that pulled down cold air from the Arctic into the US has fanned warm air from subtropical zones into Europe. He warned that climate change hasn’t finished its work – unless people cut use of fuels that trap heat in the atmosphere.
”By the end of the century (it’s) just going to be over … skiing in the Alps as we know it,” he said, adding that lower-altitude mountain areas already feel the impact. “In the future, these problems will get worse, because the snow will continue to melt as long as the climate warms.”
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)
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