Fresh avalanche threats end brief respite for the Alps

Parts of Austria and Germany have received new avalanche warnings as heavy snowfall looks set to return. In Bavaria in southern Germany, thousands were working to clear snow from rooftops at risk of collapsing.

Avalanche risk monitors announced new warnings for Austria on Saturday after strong winds brought snowfall back to parts of the country overnight.

Nature and Environment | 12.01.2019

Fresh snowfall on Saturday, forecast to continue into Sunday, brought an end to a brief pause on Friday.

Heavy snow has brought parts of Europe to a standstill in the past few days, cutting off mountain villages, disrupting transport and triggering avalanches.

At least 21 weather-related deaths have been reported across the continent in the last 10 days.

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DW News | 12.01.2019

Avalanche danger in Austrian villages persists

The new wave of snow means snow on meadow slopes and in forests could suddenly start to slide — possibly even below an altitude of 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) above sea level.

Avalanches could break loose on steep rocky terrain, the avalanche warning service for the state of Styria in southeastern Austria reported.

Across the Alps, safety agencies kept the avalanche threat level at high, but it was downgraded to lower levels in some spots on Saturday, including in Germany's Berchtesgaden.

Thousands work to remove snow

In southern Germany, workers were making the most of a break in the bad weather to try and clear heavy loads of snow from roofs and roads on Saturday.

Bavarian Premier Markus Söder said the state would send an additional 500 police officers out to assist the worst-affected areas.

"There's no need for panic, but there are grounds for serious concern," Söder said in the southern Bavarian Alpine town of Bad Tölz.

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Söder said the nearly 5,000 officials currently deployed are mainly focused on removing snow from roofs that are at risk of collapsing.

In the German Alps and the Bavarian Forest region, between 20 centimeters and 50 centimeters (7.8 inches and 19 inches) of snow are expected at 600 meters above sea level.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

'Snow chaos'

For days, the German state of Bavaria has been inundated by massive amounts of snow. Munich police urged drivers to deal with the snow covering their vehicles or face potential fines after tweeting a picture of a car (not this one!) shrouded in ice at a stoplight. German media has dubbed the extreme weather phenomenon "Schneechaos" — or snow chaos.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

Helping out

In Berchtesgaden, a town in the Bavarian Alps near the Austrian border, Germany's armed forces — the Bundeswehr — had to deliver much-needed supplies in the middle of the night. The reason: the road to the village was cut off by the sheer amount of snow fall. As such, the military had the only transport vehicles able to reach the area. Local tram services were also in no state to run.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

Snow pyramid

A festive pyramid diorama was covered in snow in Schönheide, a town near the Czech border in eastern Germany. Snow plows have been pressed to find places to pile the snow from the street after a blizzard powdered the Ore Mountains.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

Roof brigade

Firefighters dislodged piles of snow from a roof in the western Austrian town of Mariazell. Since January 5, around 3,700 firefighters have been called upon in the Austrian state of Styria to help deal with the flurry.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria


For some, the snow kept them from reaching home. Hundreds of drivers had to sleep in their vehicles overnight after being trapped on the highway between Munich and Salzburg. In an editorial, the conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) said climate change may be a contributing factor to the "chaotic amounts of snow" and shows how quickly areas can be changed by its effects.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

Air support

A "Super Puma" helicopter was prepared for takeoff in a parking lot in Schönau am Königsee, a town in southeast Bavaria. The helicopters were used to blow snow from trees and onto roads to prevent trees and their branches from falling onto cars passing by.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

Emergency work

A fireman cleared off snow from a roof in the Berchtesgaden region of Bavaria near the Austrian border. More than 1,000 emergency workers were dispatched to Upper Bavaria to deal with the snow.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

More warnings

But Bavaria wasn't the only place in Germany to be affected by the snowfall. North of Bavaria in the German state of Thuringia, park authorities warned people against entering forests, saying enormous snow loads threatened to bring down numerous trees. Several roads were also closed by deep snow and fallen trees.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

Snow day

While not nearly as chaotic as Bavaria and Thuringia, the German state of Baden-Württemberg received plenty of snow too. In Stuttgart, buildings were covered by the white powder frost, while in some parts of the state, school children were allowed to take the day off.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

Freezing neighbors

For days now, Austrian authorities have issued avalanche warnings for its Alpine slopes. At least eight people have been killed by weather-related incidents. In some cases, rescuers have had to save people stranded in cut-off areas. On Thursday, nine tourists from Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Hungary had to be rescued after venturing off-piste in the Zell am See resort area.

Heavy snow creates chaos in southern Germany and Austria

Elsewhere in Europe

While Germany and Austria have received a lot of extreme weather coverage, that doesn't mean other parts of Europe weren't inundated by snowfall. As far south as Greece, refugee children took it as an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with a snowball or two. Switzerland, Slovenia, Italy and Turkey also received their share.

Strong winds of up to 70 kilometers an hour are expected in the foothills of the Alps, while in the Bavarian Forest speeds could reach 100 kilometers an hour. Snow drifts are to be expected, according to the German weather service DWD.

The icy weather disrupted flights at airports, including in Munich and Frankfurt, with around a hundred flights canceled on Friday.

law/sms (AP, dpa)