Snow depth animation: Three meters of fresh snow in twelve days

The snow is piling up in southern Germany and Austria - and at the weekend it will snow again. An animation shows how rapidly the snowpack in the Eastern Alps has grown in recent days.

It started the day before New Year's Eve. From the northwest, humid air flowed again and again to the northern edge of the Alps, the clouds erupted. 100 centimeters of fresh snow within a day or two were not uncommon. Higher places in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Austria sank under a meter-high layer. Part of the military had to move out with special equipment to supply cut-off areas.

The experts of the Austrian weather service ZAMG have counted a total of ten snow fronts in only twelve days. Reason is the existing since 30 December until today Nordstaulage, says the ZAMG climate researcher Marc Olefs. "In this weather, humid-cold air masses with strong high winds against the Alps." Particularly affected were regions in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria as well as in Austria the area from Arlberg over the Dachstein to Salzkammergut and Hochschwabgebiet.

"Very extreme values"

ZAMG data show just how rapidly snow depths have risen in just twelve days. The meteorologists can calculate the snow depth from measurements of precipitation, air temperature and humidity for virtually every point in the Eastern Alps. The model also takes into account effects such as rain, which causes the snow to sink, or the melt of snow cover due to rising temperatures.

The following graph shows the snow depth trend from 30th December to 11th January. The calculations include not only Austria but also Bavaria, northern Italy and parts of Switzerland.


Legend: On December 30, the snow depth in the foothills of the Alps was between zero and ten centimeters - visualized with the colors yellow to light green. The large Alpine valleys were still largely free of snow. Twelve days later there is snow almost everywhere, in the mountains he towers several meters high (color blue).

"Looking at the recent snowfall, some regions have already reached very extreme levels," says ZAMG expert Olefs. In Hochfilzen, for example, 311 centimeters of fresh snow fell within ten days, 280 cm in Bad Mitterndorf, 208 cm in Seefeld, 170 cm in Ramsau am Dachstein and around 170 cm in Lofer. Such amounts of snow give it above about 800 meters above sea level only every 30 to 100 years.

On many mountains, such as in Salzburg, the snow is already as high as otherwise only in late January and early February, said the ZAMG. The snowpack on mountains typically increases during the winter months and only reaches its maximum at the end of winter.

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A lot of snow not only means a high avalanche risk, also houses and trees are endangered because of the high load. And the situation could get worse on the weekend. For the weekend, the German Weather Service DWD and the Austrian colleagues of the ZAMG have predicted up to one meter of fresh snow. "You just can not imagine what else can happen," said Guido Wolz, Head of the Regional Weather Consultancy Munich of the German Weather Service (DWD).

At least the avalanche danger has fallen slightly on Friday in many parts of Austria. In the areas most affected by snowfall, the second highest warning level was four. On Thursday, it was still the highest avalanche warning level five in many places.

Skiers and tourers are specifically warned not to leave secured slopes. "The snowpack structure is extremely unstable, and avalanches can easily be triggered," said Michael Butschek of the avalanche warning service Salzburg, according to a statement. "We strongly advise against driving in open terrain."