Treacherous avalanche situation as snow fall continues

There have been huge snowfalls in the northeastern Alps over the past fortnight leading to road closures with some ski resorts forced to temporarily close. Some ski resorts in the eastern Alps have reported over 2.5 metres of snow fall in the past week. It has snowed more than six meters on the Innsbruck Nordkette. Constant precipitation over several days is actually pretty unusual. Most of the snow fell in the northern-barrier regions, from the Lechtal and Allgäu Alps over the Karwendel to the Wilder Kaiser. As so often to date this winter, the precipitation was accompanied by storm-strength winds in many places.


While North Tirol was immersed in snow, southern regions were at a loss. Precipitation reached the Dolomites, but the amounts were extremely modest. Elsewhere fresh snowfall has been reported in the Swiss, Northern French Alps and the French Pyrenees too transforming conditions there.

The avalanche situation is currently very treacherous, particularly in North Tirol and in northern regions of East Tirol, with most of northern and western Austria on the next-to-highest level, 4, whilst Salzburgerland and neighbouring provinces have moved up to the maximum level 5 in the last few days. The immense amount of snow threatens more than the obvious danger of avalanches. Accidents in Salzburg and in Switzerland demonstrated just how fast a skiing accident in meter-deep, unbonded fresh snow can end in tragedy.

Most ski areas remain open, with incredible powder conditions where slopes are safe to ski, although often the amount of terrain open is currently limited whilst excess snow is cleared and slopes are made safe.  

Historic snow depth for January

Another major snowstorm is ahead for the northern Alps, especially across northern and western Austria, southern Germany and east-central Switzerland. The pattern supportive of very intense and excessive snowfall over the northern Alps will establish again this weekend. A very strong, persistent northerly / northwesterly meridional flow develops between a deep trough over eastern half of Europe and strong ridging across the western Europe and the Atlantic. The result will be advection of Arctic maritime airmass into the Alps. A textbook heavy Stau.

There will be a lot of precipitation in the northern alps on Sunday and Monday. It all starts on Saturday evening with an strengthening Nordweststau. It will last all night and Sunday, which means that there will be a lot of precipitation. In the course of Sunday, the snow line ascends to 1500 meters in the west and 1100 meters in the east. This will also result in rain in low-altitude valleys. On Monday, colder air starts to flow from the north and the snow line will drop around 200 meters.

As far as the precipitation amounts is concerned we are talking about 20-40 cm for the western and a 40-75 cm for the central and eastern part of the Alps. Northern French and western Swiss ski resorts like Flaine and Verbier will see between 30cm and 60cm. The Bernese Alps, eastern Swiss Alps and the Arlberg region may welcome well over 1 meter of fresh snow, and locally even more. Also on Monday there will probably be a substantial amount of fresh snow. Hardly a snowmageddon, but more than enough to disrupt ski lift operations and holiday traffic. To complicate matters, there is a strong wind of 80km/h. In high mountains, the wind gusts exceed 100 km/h, with a peak on Monday.  This time the spill-over to the Italian Alps will be more considerable than the past week.

From Tuesday, the weather should calm down then, with often room for the sun. A high-pressure area gets a better grip on the Alps, causing large precipitation areas to be diverted. It is also quite cold and therefore good winter sport weather.

Hauser Kaibling

Written by skiweather on Friday January 11, 2019

Category: skiweather

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