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Green in winter: a white Christmas again for only a few

Green in winter: a white Christmas again for only a few

Advent is off to a remarkable winter start this year. Almost all of Austria was white at the beginning of December. In Vienna, there was 20 centimeters of snow more than in ten years, and in Upper Austria and Upper Styria half a meter of snow fell in some places.

After the snow came the bitter cold. In the city of Liebenau in the Mühlviertel region of Upper Austria, the temperature dropped to 25.4 degrees below zero. Some state capitals also recorded temperatures below zero. At 11.5 degrees below zero, the temperature in St. Pölten was colder than it had been in December in 13 years.

ORF

Almost all of Austria was covered in snow on the first Sunday of Advent. Here the snow appears turquoise, and the clouds are white.

Thaw instead of winter cold

Winter friends have now given way to mild disappointment. The snow became much less and completely disappeared in many places again. Not only has the melting snow left its mark on the lowlands, but warm weather has also brought snowfall in the Alps. In Reute in Tirol (842 m) and Abtenau (Salzburg, 709 m), the snow cover has reduced from half a meter to a few centimetres, and in Kernhof (Lower Austria, 679 m) there are only traces of 40 cm.

On the other hand, snow conditions are better on the mountains and at higher elevations. More than 2 meters of snow accumulated in Galzig (Tyrol, 2079 metres), more than 70 centimeters in Warth (Vorarlberg, 1478 metres) and more than 40 centimeters in Schmirn (Tyrol, 1464 metres). In Ramsau am Dachstein (Styria) and Krimml (Salzburg) there is still a good 20 cm, and here it should also be enough for a white Christmas.

White Christmas is only on the rise

The best chance of remaining covered in snow on Christmas Eve is above 800 or 900 metres. At least some of the snow that exists now should survive the massive melting in the next few days. Only about six percent of Austria’s population lives above 800 metres. At lower elevations the chances of new snowfall by Christmas are much lower.

There is currently a rise across the alpine region with moderate air extending upwards. From Wednesday, the weather will become wetter and fronts will bring frequent showers from the northwest. But in the lowlands, it is likely to be mostly rain. It will also be temporarily windy.

This would continue what has now become a long string of green Christmases in the Lowlands. But there is still a small chance of heavy snowfall over the weekend. Some weather models are predicting a strong influx of cold air, meaning things could get more interesting this year shortly before the festival.

Green Christmas trend

With the exception of Klagenfurt, where there was 17cm of snow two years ago for gift-giving, the last white Christmas in all state capitals was more than ten years ago. This is shown by the analysis conducted by ORF’s weather editorial team of data from GeoSphere Austria. It’s been 27 years since the whole of Austria was covered in a blanket of snow, back in 1996. Since the 2000s, white Christmases have become noticeably rarer at lower altitudes.

A chart of recent white Christmases in state capitals

ORF.at/Sandra Schober

Young people in St. Pölten know about a white Christmas only through the stories told by their parents and grandparents. It is the state capital with the longest snow-free streak and was last in white on Christmas Eve 16 years ago. There were still regular white Christmases in the 1980s and 1990s, and in St. Pölten there was enough snow seven times in those two decades.

The reason for the increasingly rare white Christmas: rising temperatures due to man-made climate change. The average December temperature in Austria has already risen by 1.5 degrees since the 1990s. This will inevitably have an impact on the snow conditions at Christmas.

However, from a climatic point of view, Christmas is also not suitable for the splendor of white. The warmest weather regularly occurs during the Christmas holidays in Central Europe, which is the Christmas thaw. Last year was particularly harsh: 15.6°C on Christmas Eve in Hartberg (Styria), 14.1°C on Christmas Day in Fraxern (Vorarlberg), and 16.3°C on St. Stephen’s Day in Micheldorf (Upper Austria). The Christmas thaw has finally led to a warmer turn for the year.

White almost every year in the 60s

So white Christmases were not a given in the Lowlands, even before the onset of climate change. In Graz, from 1900 to 1915, there were six white Christmases and ten green Christmases. In Vienna in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, it snowed at Christmas about every third year.

On the other hand, today’s generation of grandparents experienced many Christmases with snow during their childhood. There have been particularly cold winters in the 60s, and the average December has been three to four degrees colder than the last ten Decembers. From 1961 to 1965, Christmas in Austria was white almost every year.

Ensure widespread snow on the mountains

Above an altitude of about 1200 metres, you can still expect a white Christmas with great certainty. Schroken (Vorarlberg), Galtur and St. Jakob in Divergen (both in Tyrol) have a probability of Christmas snowfall of 90 percent or more. Last year, even Shroken was snow-free.

The place holds a record for snow. In 1981 there was 2.2 meters on Christmas Eve, and by St Stephen’s Day the snow cover had risen to 2.5 metres. At that time there were also more than 1 meter in Schobernau (Vorarlberg), Abtenau (Salzburg), Pertisau (Tyrol) and Kölrschlag (Upper Austria).

State capital records

Christmas 1981 was also the height of winter in Vienna. After 20cm on Christmas Eve, snow depth reached 39cm on St Stephen’s Day. A similar thick cover of snow in the federal capital was recorded only in 1969 in a long series of measurements. The records for St. Pölten, with 50 centimetres, and Eisenstadt, with 39 centimetres, date back to that year.

In 1962 there were 65 cm in Innsbruck and 35 cm in Salzburg.
It was very snowy in southern Austria on Christmas 1994. Nearly half a meter of snow covered the cities of Graz and Klagenfurt on Christmas Eve. Linz is the only state capital where the snow record was set after the turn of the millennium: in 2001 there was 23 cm in Linz on Christmas Day.

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