When was Germany’s coldest winter?

Germany is in the grip of a cold snap, bringing much of the country to a standstill. These are the years that the country has experienced the worst winters.

When was Germany's coldest winter?
People using skis in Leipzig on Monday during a snow storm. Photo: DPA

Heavy snowfall and freezing rain caused traffic chaos at the weekend – and it's still resulting in serious disruption on Monday.

The extreme weather is down to an area of low pressure dubbed “Tristan” which currently has large parts of central and northern Germany in its grip.

It may be a bit of shock for German residents compared to recent years: the last two winters in Germany were comparatively mild.

But now the country is experiencing a cold spell again, with lots of snowfall and temperatures way below zero.

In a historical comparison, however, the winter of 2020/21 has so far been fairly mild compared to other years, as the Statista graphic based on data from the German Weather Service (DWD) shows.

Germany experienced its coldest winter since weather records began in 1962/63, when the average temperature nationwide from December to February was -5.5C.

The second coldest winter occurred in 1940 during the Second World War, with an average of -5.0C. The winters of recent years do not come close to these freezing records. The last time Germany experienced a particularly frosty winter was in 1984/85 (-2.5C).

READ ALSO: Germany braces for more snow as extreme winter weather causes chaos

Graph translated by Statista for The Local Germany.

In fact, in general winters in Germany have been getting warmer due to climate change.

According to the DWD, the average temperature across Germany was 3C in December 2020 and 0.6C in January 2021. Both values were above the average for the period from 1961 to 1990.

Of course we still have to see what the rest of February holds – and with freezing weather forecast for the rest of the week at least, things are not looking good. But we'll see how that compares historically once the cold snap is over.

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Western Germany hit by second round of severe storms

Parts of Germany were once again pummelled by heavy thunderstorms on Monday - just days after the city of Paderborn was struck by a devastating tornado.

Western Germany hit by second round of severe storms

A severe weather warning was issued on Sunday by the German Weather Service (DWD), who cautioned residents in western and southwestern regions of the country that fierce gusts of wind, hailstones and heavy rain could once again be on the horizon.

A  second tornado could “not be ruled out” in the southwestern regions of the country, DWD warned. 

North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, were struck by heavy rain and hailstorms and strong gusts of wind throughout the afternoon.

However, the worst of the thunder and hailstorms warnings were for the state of Baden-Württemberg. 

Here, DWD issued a Stage 3 weather warning – the second highest possible. Severe thunderstorms with gale-force winds at speeds of up to 110km per hour were forecast, with up to 50 litres of rain per square metre falling in a short space of time.

According to the meteorologists, the storms are expected sweep across to the eastern regions of the country and ease off in the evening.

The storms and severe weather warnings came days after the city of Paderborn in North Rhine-Westphalia was hit by a devastating tornado.

According to the local fire brigade, 43 people were injured in the storm, with 13 of them needing to be hospitalised and one person reportedly fighting for their life. 

Railway services were cancelled across many parts of the west over the weekend, but resumed again on Monday.

Air travel in some parts of the country was also affected, with Frankfurt Airport in the central state of Hesse saying there was disruption to flights on Friday. 

Videos posted on social media depicted the strongest part of the tornado tearing through the city, ripping trees up by their roots.

The damage to infrastructure and buildings caused by the storm is estimated to be in the millions.

Schools remain closed

As of Monday, several schools and nurseries remained closed in both Paderborn and nearby Lippstadt due to fears that the buildings couldn’t be safely entered.

In the small town of Lippstadt alone, five nurseries and seven schools were closed for repairs on Monday, with administrators unable to say when they would reopen their doors.

“Given the extent of the damage we see at the various locations, it is currently unthinkable that classes can be held there in the next few days,” said Mayor Arne Moritz (CDU).

In Paderborn, meanwhile, drones were exploring five closed school buildings to check whether there was a risk of damaged roofs imploding. The streets where the schools are located have been closed off to the public and the police are believed to be patrolling outside to stop anyone entering.

READ ALSO: Tornado in western Germany injures dozens

Damaged roof in Paderborn

A damaged roof in the aftermath of the Paderborn storms. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

More frequent tornadoes? 

Tornadoes aren’t infrequent in Central Europe, but recently appear to be gaining in frequency and intensity, which experts suggest could be a result of climate change. 

In June 2021, a deadly tornado swept through several villages in the Czech Republic near the Slovakian and Austrian borders, killing six people and injuring a further 200. 

At time, climatologists pointed out that until 2020, the Czech Republic only saw a handful of tornadoes each year – and most of them were relatively mild.

Speaking to WDR on Sunday, climate researcher Dr. Mojib Latif drew a direct parallel between warmer temperatures and more violent and regular storms.  

“In Germany there are approximately between 20 and 40 tornadoes per year,” he told the regional media outlet. “We have to reckon with that. As the climate gets warmer and thunderstorms become more violent, the frequency of tornadoes will also increase.”

However, some experts have been more cautious about drawing a direct link.

“That simply cannot be determined at the moment,” meteorologist Jürgen Schmidt told RND. 

Schmidt thinks the perception that tornadoes have increased in recent years could have a slightly more prosaic explanation.

The fact that people are able to record them on their smartphones and share these images more widely could contribute to this impression, he said. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard