Although the idea that Switzerland, particularly in the Swiss Alps, is perpetually covered under a thick layer of snow, is pretty much a misconception (it’s said to typically happen only for about a few days in the winter), the country’s average rainfall for December 2016 was a mere 2.0 millimeters.
Considering the Swiss landscape typically gets about 90 millimeters of rain in December, the 2 millimeter average is alarmingly low. As such, Switzerland just had its driest December on record. At least since 1864, the year researchers started recording weather stats.
Warmer Winters Explained
The country’s driest December was preceded by an exceptionally warm December in 2015, which also was considered the warmest for the nation. That considered, it’s quite worrying thinking what the next December, coming in just 9 months, will be like for this Alpine country, especially for hikers.
Some researchers have noted that the declining snow cover in the Swiss Alps is due largely to climate change. The famous ski spots, like Zermatt and Grindelwald, finds its snow season starting later than usual – about 12 days. At such places, snow season also is cut short by about 25 days, which led to the increased usage of snow cannons and artificial means of producing snow.
Effects of Reduced Snow Cover
Unfortunately, such methods, which involve snow cannons, a lot of power and water, are not exactly helpful for the mountain landscape as all that power used could be “enough to fuel a small town” and even requires the “creation of reservoirs.”
Also, such artificial efforts explain why ski lifts are not cheap. It is also possible that lift tickets will rise with the ramped up efforts to cover bare mountainsides with artificial snow.
Additionally, some ski resorts in the Alps have closed due to the snow shortage. In fact, some lifts are no longer operating precisely due to the retreating snow line. Hikers may find this a welcome development as they now can trudge through areas of the Alps previously difficult to access due to the snow. However, trekkers who are selective about their hikes may find this development a complication as it would require them to add more meters to their on-foot travel.
What This Means for Hikers
Also, hikers looking to trek through the winter season can now do so with a bit more ease due to the lower temperatures and reduced snow cover. They won’t have to wait for far too long before beginning the Swiss Alps hiking season.
However, the reduced snow cover will also affect the ecosystem in the Alps as a layer of snow actually helps protect the ground and also makes it easier for plants to survive.
“If snow is melting refreezing and creating an ice layer, it makes it harder for plants and animals,” explained adaptation specialist Hans-Martin Füssel. This may mean that the Alpine environment may change – what you see now and 10-20 years later may be very different.
Right now, the higher points of the Swiss Alps still have good snow cover. But that also could change in no time due to global warming. It is possible that, soon, hikers may have no need to use crampons when trudging the Alps.
It is also possible that there will be more hikers than skiers in the Swiss Alps, at the rate the meltdown is going. And that’s not exactly bad for Swiss tourism. It’s just a matter of shifting to new ways of exploring and enjoying what the Swiss Alps have to offer.
What do you think about this climate-driven development in the Swiss Alps? Does this make you want to go and hike up the Alpine paths before they are fully overtaken by climate change?