January Sees Record Temperatures in Europe’s Alps

In the worst start to the winter season in living memory, the European Alps have seen its usual new year snow replaced with grass and mud. What is going on, and can anything be done?

An abnormally warm winter in January has brought the ski season in much of the Alps to a halt, witnessing  temperatures as high as 20°C (68°F) in Switzerland. This has been attributed to a combination of mild south-westerly winds and the Foehn effect, bringing temperatures similar to those in June on the north side of the Alps. As a result, many ski resorts are now using artificial snow and offering alternative activities, such as horse-drawn carriage rides or bouncy castles, to attract visitors. The lack of snowfall and increasing temperatures in recent years have led to a dire situation for ski resorts, with a grim outlook for both the current season and the future.


Is this just a bad winter?

Climate change has driven the average temperature in the Alps ever higher over the past few decades. Since 1990, the length of the skiing season in the French Alps has shortened by an average of one month, a loss of around 3-5% per decade.  According to the European Environment Agency, the average temperature in the Alps has risen by about 1.5°C (2.7°F) between 1900 and 2018, with most of the change concentrated in the last 3 decades. This increase in temperature has led to a decrease in snowfall and an earlier start to the melt season, affecting the ski and snow-related tourism industries vital to the Alpine economy. For the future, the Alpine region is projected to experience some of the strongest warming in Europe, with an increase in temperature of 2-4 times greater than the warming observed during the 20th century, causing even more challenges for a region dependent on winter sports. According to a study published in Science, half of the world’s glaciers could melt, even in a 1.5° climate future.


What can we do about it?

Protect Our Winters exists to protect the places and way of life winter enthusiasts love from climate change. The current situation is not only a bad winter but a shocking glimpse into what awaits in the future if radical action is not taken to mitigate climate change. This will not only affect outdoor sports, but have significant impacts on water resources, agriculture, forestry, biodiversity, and the regional economy.

Studies have shown that out of the more than 600 snow-reliable ski areas in the Alps, one-third would no longer be snow reliable in a 2° of warming scenario, and this number increases to two-thirds with 4 degrees of warming. While acknowledging it is not possible to stop all the impacts of climate change, Protect Our Winters is focused on communicating that there still is a chance to maintain global warming below 1.5°C, but that everyone’s help is needed.


What Can You Do?

Help fight climate change by joining a POW chapter in your country, donating to POW, and staying informed of political campaigns that push for the systemic solutions we need by signing up for POW’s newsletter.

Photo: St. Anton Ski Resort (Credit: Chiara Pizzignacco)

Sören Ronge

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