Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland's best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels
A picture taken on August 4, 2022 in Les Brenets shows the dry bed of Brenets Lake (Lac des Brenets), part of the Doubs River, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland, as much of Europe bakes in a third heatwave since June. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Some of Switzerland’s best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

At the same time, discharge levels on the Rhine, one of Europe’s major rivers which starts in the Swiss Alps, have never been so low in August since records began.

“There is a low water situation in Switzerland, especially on the central plateau and in the southern part of Ticino,” the country’s southernmost canton, said Michele Oberhansli, from the Federal Office for the Environment’s hydrology division.

READ ALSO: Water flown in by helicopter: How Switzerland has been hit by drought

“The reason for the existing situation is a precipitation deficit in the whole year of 2022, which affects the whole of Switzerland, as well as many other European countries,” she told AFP.

Soil moisture is down across the country and drought is affecting forests and agriculture, she said.

Lakes Constance, Lucerne, Lugano and Walen “are currently recording water levels that have never been so low in an August month since measurements began”, said Oberhansli.

Meanwhile Lakes Zug and Maggiore “continue to show values well below average”.

The shores of Lake Maggiore mark the lowest point in Switzerland, normally at 193 metres above sea level.

READ ALSO: MAP: The Swiss regions in danger of wildfires and the measures in place to avoid them

Except the lakes in the Jura region in the northwest and Lake Thun, the levels of all the other larger Swiss lakes are also below the long-term average.

Rivers down, glaciers melting

Meanwhile many Swiss rivers are recording readings that only occur once every two to 20 years.

“Discharge values on the Reuss and Rhine have never been so low since measurements began in August,” said Oberhansli.

The hydrologist said rain over the coming days should “slightly alleviate” the low water and drought levels, but would “not yet be sufficient to ease the overall situation”.

Following a dry winter, the summer heatwaves hitting Europe have been catastrophic for Switzerland’s Alpine glaciers, which have been melting at an accelerated rate.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Runners take on Swiss glacier race despite melt

A layer of ice — 15 metres thick in 2012 — has covered the Tsanfleuron Pass between two glaciers since at least the Roman era.

But most of it has gone and the ice on the pass will have melted away completely by the end of September, a ski resort said last week.

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Weather: Temperatures in Switzerland set to plummet

Depending on where in Switzerland you live, you might have been enjoying the last of the mild autumn. But those days are likely over, as ‘polar’ weather may be on the way.

Weather: Temperatures in Switzerland set to plummet

Blame it on the low-pressure system called “mega polar vortex,” which has hit parts of the United States in the past days and is now heading towards us from – where else – but Siberia.

“If the polar vortex pushes cold air north, it could reach us as well,” said Roger Perret, a meteorologist at the MeteoNews weather service.

This is what the situation is currently:

How cold could it get?

The temperatures could drop to 0 C, though heavy snowfall is not expected before the beginning of December.

While this is the most likely scenario, weather is, after all, unpredictable.

The current forecast will hold true only if the polar vortex is undisturbed on its path.

But if “it stays in the east and mild air currents arrive in Switzerland from the Atlantic depression, it will be warmer again,” Perret said.

In other words, be prepared for the cold, but hope for the clement weather to continue a little bit longer.

READ MORE: Will the warm autumn affect the ski season in Switzerland?