Alpine Slopes Face Snow Shortage in Unseasonably Warm Winter

Much of the Alps just don’t look right for this time of year. Sparse snowfall with unseasonably warm winter weather in much of Europe is allowing grass to blanket mountaintops across the region where snow might normally be, causing headaches for ski slope operators and aficionados of Alpine white.

Patches of grass, rock and dirt were visible Monday in some of Europe’s skiing meccas — including Innsbruck in Austria, Villars-sur-Ollon and Crans-Montana in Switzerland, Germany’s Lenggries and far beyond. The dearth of snow has revived concerns about temperature upheaval linked to climate change.

On a swath stretching from France to Poland, but with the Alps at the center, many parts of Europe have been enjoying short-sleeve weather. A weather map showed Poland racking up daily highs in the double digits Celsius — or more than 50 Fahrenheit — in recent days.

It’s a sharp contrast to the frigid weather and blizzards in parts of the United States late last month.

Swiss state forecaster MeteoSuisse pointed to some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded this time of year. A weather station in Delemont, in the Jura range on the French border, already hit a record average daily temperature of 18.1 degrees Celsius (nearly 65 Fahrenheit) on the first day of the year, over 2 1/2 degrees Celsius higher than the previous record high for January. Other cities and towns followed suit with records.

MeteoSuisse quipped on its blog: “this turn of the new year could almost make you forget that it’s the height of winter.”

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 United Nations World Meteorological Organization says the past eight years are on track to be the eight warmest on record. Its final tally on global temperatures for 2022 will be released in mid-January.

Next door 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.

Meteo France says the southern Alps and, in the northern Alps, slopes above 2,200 meters, have seen close to normal snowfalls. But snow is notably lacking at lower altitudes in the northern Alps and across the Pyrenees, it said.

Germany too has seen unusually springlike temperatures, with 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 December 31 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. 

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