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Winter weather in Switzerland


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Must knows about Swiss winter weather

View from the Refuge L'Espace at Quille du Diable

Wintry skies from the Refuge l'Espace restaurant near the Quille du Diable peak, at a 1-hour walk from Glacier 3000.

What is Swiss winter weather like?

Winter in Switzerland is diverse: it may snow in the mountains while it’s mild and cloudy in the lowlands. Or it may be freezing cold everywhere. Learn all about winter season, temperatures, snow, sunshine and hazards during Swiss winters.

When is it winter in Switzerland?

The astronomical winter season in Switzerland is from December 21 to March 19. The meteorological winter season is from December 1 to February 28.

In practice, winter weather in Switzerland can occur from November to April. The snow season is mostly from January to March.

What’s the Swiss winter climate like?

Switzerland has a mild winter climate with large differences per region and altitude:

  • It’s mild in the lowlands. Rain, fog and clouds are common. Snow doesn’t fall often. This goes for many larger towns such as Zurich, Geneva, Bern and Lucerne.
  • In hills and valleys at medium altitude, there can be a mixture of mild weather and cold spells. Snow can occur.
  • In the Alps, with towns such as St. Moritz and Zermatt, temperatures are lowest. It can freeze and chances of snow are best here.

The “Föhn” is a typically Swiss weather phenomenon. It’s a cross-alpine wind. This wind causes rain and moist on one side of the Alps, and mild dry air on the other side. If the Föhn occurs in winter, this can result in a significant local rise of temperature.

How does climate change affect Swiss winters?

Global warming is changing Switzerland’s winter weather. Cold winters (average of -4 °C / 24.8 F) are less common than before. Extremely warm winters occur more often.

Less snow falls in ski resorts at lower altitude. There’s guarantee of snow here anymore, and this will get worse in the coming years.

The highest Swiss ski resorts will most probably remain snowy. The amount of snow might even increase there.

How cold does it get in Swiss winters?

The average overall winter temperature for Switzerland is -1.9 °C (28.6 F). This is the average of day and night temperatures, measured from 1990 to 2020. Temperatures vary per climate zone and altitude. With every 100 m (328 ft) of gaining height, the temperature drops 0.7 to 1.0 °C (1.8 F).

  • In lowlands, at an altitude of 200-600 m (656-1969 ft), temperatures are often well above freezing point. This applies to many larger towns such as Zurich, Bern, Interlaken and Lucerne.
  • In mountain resorts such as Mürren, temperatures around freezing point occur. During the coldest months it may freeze all day long.
  • At the highest mountain tops it can freeze all year long, with temperatures around -10 °C to -15 °C (14 F to 5 F).
Location Altitude in m November min/max temp (°C) December min/max temp (°C) January min/max temp (°C) February min/max temp (°C) March min/max temp (°C) April min/max temp (°C)
Lugano 273 5.1 / 11.3 1.7 / 7.4 0.8 / 6.6 1.6 / 8.5 4.9 / 13.0 7.9 / 15.8
Zurich (Kloten) 426 0.7 / 7.6 -1.6 / 4.1 -3.1 / 3.2 -3.1 / 5.2 0.1 / 10.3 3.0 / 14.6
Lucerne 454 1.6 / 7.8 -1.0 / 4.3 -2.3 / 3.4 -2.0 / 5.2 1.1 / 10.3 4.3 / 14.4
Interlaken 577 0.6 / 7.7 -2.2 / 3.8 -3.6 / 3.1 -3.0 / 5.1 0.3 / 10.1 3.4 / 14.1
Engelberg 1053 -1.5 / 5.7 -4.6 / 2.4 -5.8 / 1.7 -5.4 / 2.7 -2.3 / 6.6 -0.9 / 10.6
Zermatt 1683 -3.7 / 4.8 -6.6 / 1.3 -7.7 / 0.7 -7.6 / 1.5 -4.7 / 4.9 -1.4 / 8.7
Samedan 1708 -8.9 / 3.7 -13.8 / -1.2 -16.3 / -1.6 -16.4 / 0.5 -10.4 / 3.7 -4.7 / 7.4
Arosa 1878 -3.5/ 2.6 -6.1 / -0.1 -7.0 / -0.8 -7.8 / -0.8 -5.6 / 1.3 2.3 / 4.1
Jungfraujoch 3571 -12.3 / -6.9 -14.7 / -8.9 -15.7 / -9.7 -16.4 / -10.5 -15.7 / -9.4 -12.4 / -7.0

Examples of average minimum (night) and maximum (day) winter temperatures throughout Switzerland. It's colder at higher altitude.

How about rain and snow in Swiss winters?

There’s less precipitation in Swiss winters than in Swiss summers.

January, February and March are the driest months. It’s wetter just before and after winter: November, December and April. An example for Interlaken (577 m / 1893 ft):

  • driest month: February, with an average of 70 mm
  • wettest month: August, with an average of 144 mm

When does snow instead of rain fall?

The snow line is the altitude at which snow instead of rain falls. The average winter snow line in the Swiss Alps is at about 800 m. In practice, the snow line varies by region, time of the year and varying weather conditions.

This is the relation between snow line, temperature and altitude:

  • Zero-degree limit: the altitude at which it is exactly 0 °C (32 F). Snowfall is possible from 200-400 m (656-1213 ft) below.
  • Snowfall limit: the altitude from which snow instead of rain falls.
  • Snow limit or snow line: the altitude at which snow remains at the bottom. The snow limit is usually 50-200 m (164-656 ft) higher than the snowfall limit.

For example: if the zero-degree limit is at 1000 m (3281 ft), snowfall occurs from 600-800 m (1969-2625 ft). It will rain below that altitude. The snow limit is at 650-1000 m (2133-3281 ft).

Learn when and where to expect snow in Switzerland here.

Location Altitude in m November precipitation (mm) December precipitation (mm) January precipitation (mm) February precipitation (mm) March precipitation (mm) April precipitation (mm)
Lugano 273 127 80 66 52 80 156
Zurich (Kloten) 426 76 81 65 60 74 74
Lucerne 454 73 72 51 54 74 86
Interlaken 577 84 86 73 70 80 87
Engelberg 1053 108 103 89 89 103 113
Zermatt 1683 56 45 42 35 38 46
Samedan 1708 61 36 28 20 26 39
Arosa 1878 106 90 86 79 92 96

Examples of average precipitation amounts in Swiss towns during winter. The bold amounts indicate towns/months in which the average temperature is around or below 0 °C. Snow instead of rain is more likely then.

Is it sunny during winter in Switzerland?

There’s less sunshine in Swiss winters than in Swiss summers. November, December and January have the lowest number of sunshine hours. This is caused by short daylight and sometimes by cloudy weather.

Sunshine hours increase in February, March and April. Days are longer and the weather gets sunnier.

Clouds can sometimes hang at low altitude, covering the valleys. At the same time, higher areas can be cloudless and sunny. So even if it’s cloudy in your resort, it’s worth checking mountain webcams. For example:

  • Interlaken in the valley (577 m / 1893 ft) has an average of 90 sunshine hours per month from November to April.
  • Nearby Jungfraujoch in the mountains (3571 m / 11716 ft) has an average of 130 sunshine hours per month from November to April.
Location Altitude in m November sunshine (hours) December sunshine (hours) January sunshine (hours) February sunshine (hours) March sunshine (hours) April sunshine (hours)
Lugano 273 110 108 125 138 186 171
Zurich (Kloten) 426 50 35 48 77 125 159
Lucerne 454 52 36 47 72 122 141
Interlaken 577 68 53 67 79 121 152
Engelberg 1053 61 31 51 91 122 133
Zermatt 1683 92 85 96 112 151 145
Samedan 1708 103 106 103 117 121 140
Arosa 1878 99 87 108 115 113 141
Jungfraujoch 3571 116 109 124 125 151 152

Examples of average sunshine hours for several Swiss towns in winter months. Towns at high altitude, such as Zermatt and Samedan, usually get more sunshine in winter than places at lower altitude.

Lugano is low but gets a lot of sun because it's south of the Alps.

What are the current snow conditions in Switzerland?

Check these sources for current snow depth and snow maps:

What’s the Swiss winter and snow forecast?

Use these winter and snow forecasts for Switzerland:

Learn how to understand Swiss weather forecasts here.

How to prepare for Swiss winter weather?

Preparation starts before your trip:

  • Study general winter conditions for your resort and region.
  • Pack appropriate clothes or find out where to rent them.
  • Arrange for Wifi and/or SIM-cards for your mobile phone. A well-functioning mobile device is important when you get out in the mountains.
  • Pick a safe mode of transport: don’t drive unless absolutely necessary. Consider a rail pass.

While in Switzerland:

  • Check weather forecasts each morning before heading off. Dress appropriately.
  • Adjust your plans if necessary.

What to do in extreme winter weather?

Winter weather in Switzerland mostly isn’t dangerous. But casualties do occur. This is how to prepare if extreme weather is expected:

  • Check hazard forecasts at www.meteoswiss.admin.ch.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Adjust your plans. Stay indoors.
  • If you go out, use appropriate gear. Make shorter trips and don’t stray far from civilization.
  • Make sure that someone who isn’t joining you knows where you’re going.
  • Never leave marked ski slopes or winter hiking trails.

Towns in the Swiss Alps can occasionally get cut off from the outside world because of a snowstorm. In such cases, helicopters are available to reach the town for supplies and emergencies. Heavy snowfall can cause tree branches to fall, so it’s wise to avoid forests.

In rare cases, it gets get extremely cold during winter in Switzerland. Swiss buildings are designed to cope with this. You’ll be fine if you avoid outdoor activities.

Sleet can cause dangerous road circumstances. Don’t drive and postpone your journey. Walking on icy streets is tricky. Attaching anti-slip snow spikes under your shoes helps a lot.

Are there avalanches in Switzerland?

Avalanches can occur in the Swiss mountains. They’re mostly prevented by huge fences on slopes. They catch small amounts of snow, so it can’t pile up. Dangerous slopes are well monitored. Sometimes avalanches are triggered in a controlled way with explosives.

Check the avalanche risk at www.slf.ch

If an avalanche comes down:

  • Don’t try to outrun it, but try to move up above the fracture line or to the side of the avalanche.
  • Hold on to something sturdy, such as a tree.
  • If you get caught in the snow, try to ‘swim’ to the upper layer of snow.
  • If you get buried, try to stick out one arm above the snow allowing others to find you. Dig a breathing pocket around your face. Try to stay calm.

Lago Bianco in winter

BEST TIME FOR WINTER HOLIDAYS

January to March are best for a snow vacation. But November, December and April have winter charm too.

Cross-country skier in snowy Swiss mountains

WINTER CLOTHES

Learn which clothes to pack for a winter city trip, playing in the snow or skiing.

Chesa Merleda along the Inn in La Punt-Chamues-ch

WINTER TOWNS

These are the best Swiss winter cities, ski resorts and charming snow villages.

Mountain pass road in snow

DRIVING IN WINTER

Public transportation is the best way to explore Switzerland in winter. If you do drive, prepare well.

Swiss Travel Pass promotion: 25% discount
Available until 11 December 2021. Book 11 months in advance. Free cancellation.
https://shop.switzerlandtravelcentre.com/#/en/home.

Information on other websites

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