Winter storms sweep across southern Germany and Austria

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Dangers lurk beneath Alpine snow

Meters more snow are forecast to fall on southern Germany and Austria over the next week. A snow plow driver died in Germany when his vehicle fell into an icy river.

In Austria, at least eight people have died since last weekend, and a 9-year-old child was killed near Munich on Thursday when a tree collapsed under the weight of the snow. On Friday, a snow plow driver in southern Germany died when after his vehicle after it plunged into an icy river.

Nature and Environment | 09.01.2019

The heaviest snowfalls in 20 years have covered southern Germany and Austria and parts of Czechia over the last week. Transport on road and rail has been affected, mainly by snow-laden trees.

The Austrian military used a short break in the winter weather to rescue a group of 66 German teenagers from a mountain guest house where they had been stranded for several days.

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.

'Completely buried'

Reporting from the Austrian town Altaussee, DW correspondent Amien Essif described the town as "completely buried" in snow. He said it felt like "walking through a tunnel [with] walls of snow twice as tall as I am."

"This Alpine town has been half evacuated — authorities believe an avalanche could happen any time," Essif tweeted. "Even the mayor left his home."

Read more: Tintin and Snowy turn 90 — haven't aged a day

Hundreds of drivers spent Wednesday night in their vehicles in southern Germany as a snowstorm trapped them on their journey. Police said lorries slid on the motorway, blocking traffic over a 35-kilometer stretch.

Train travel across the south and east of Germany was affected by the snow, mainly due to fallen trees. Affected airports, including Munich and Frankfurt, canceled nearly 200 flights due to the inclement weather.

Meters more snow are expected to fall on already covered houses

Catastrophe areas

Up in the Alps near the border with Austria at Berchtesgaden, 2 meters of snow has already fallen and the resort was declared a catastrophe area on Thursday. Further up the mountain at Buchenhöhe, the German military organized special deliveries of food to the cut-off resort.

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Berchtesgaden Mayor Franz Rasp said it would cost an extra €25,000 ($28,798) to clear away all the snow. 

In Austria, rescuers saved nine tourists stuck in the snow at the Zell am See resort. Despite warnings, the group had ventured off-piste. Road access into the resorts of Lech and Obertauern was closed due to the risk of avalanches.

Crossing a snow-covered bridge in Austria

One man died when he was hit by his own car, which had been parked on a slope above him as he tried to clear snow from his garage in Feldkirch.

Power lines were damaged by snow and 4,500 homes were without electricity on Thursday. Austria expects a further half meter of snow to fall before the weekend.

Read more: On the quest for an eco-friendly winter jacket

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ls,jm/rc (dpa, AP)