Switzerland Switzerland Switzerland Switzerland

Previously in ClimateChangePost


What would be considered a snow-sparse winter of today’s climate is projected to become quite average or even snow abundant in the future. Less snow not only affects winter tourism.

Glacier retreat causes landslides and catastrophic rock falls. In particular the breakout of landslide dams poses significant risks to surrounding settlements and critical infrastructure.

Snow cover duration and maximum snow depth have been declining in the Swiss Alps since 1970. Most likely due to higher temperatures at all elevations in the Swiss Alps, especially during spring.

Melt water of shrinking glaciers forms new lakes by filling up depressions in the landscape. New opportunities arise for hydropower, tourism, and freshwater supply. But new risks arise as well.

Water quality of lakes is affected by shrinking glaciers. How? Through changes in river flows that change oxygen transport to lakes as well.

In contrast to global climate model projections the intensity of summer rainfall may increase. This is important for fresh water supply and, for instance, with respect to flash floods.

Melting glaciers and thawing of permafrost have caused stream discharge to almost double in Alpine watersheds through the last five decades. A frequent outcome of rapid climate warming.

There is increasing evidence that warming trends have advanced wine grape harvest dates in recent decades. Across the globe, harvest dates advance approximately 6 days per degree of warming.

For the Alps, the main trigger of debris flows is high intensity, short duration rainfall. Under future climate change, it is likely that increases in extreme rainfall will alter debris flow frequency

The impact of climate change between now and 2100 on timber production and protection against landslides and avalanche release, has been evaluated for the Province of Vorarlberg in Austria

Global warming affects precipitation volumes in the Alps, the contribution of rain and snow to these volumes, and the timing of snowmelt. An overall decrease in snow cover

The estimated impacts of climate change on maize yields are subject to large uncertainties. This was shown for a case study in Switzerland.

Climate change is considered a large threat to especially montane species. These species often inhabit narrow elevational ranges

Studies based on small mountainous glacierized basins overestimate the impact of climate change on downstream water flow.

There is growing evidence that the rate of warming is amplified with elevation, such that high-mountain environments experience more rapid changes in temperature

Climate suitability for grain maize and winter wheat has remained fairly stable in Switzerland over the last decades with only weak trends

Windstorms have accounted for approximately 1/3 of the total losses relating to buildings from natural hazards in Switzerland since 1950.

Warming is stronger in the Alps than in the Swiss lowlands: about 1 °C for the summer in the second half of the 21st century compared with 1980–2009.

There are changes in the Swiss Alpine snow pack that may be due to climate change. However, the complex local influences on the snow pack via temperature, precipitation, radiation, wind and humidity

Climate change projections for the end of the century indicate a doubling of the number of summer days, tropical nights even above 1500 m and a

In the Alps, the overall frequency of debris flows may decrease in absolute terms, but the magnitude of events may increase.

Strong reduction of snow cover in the Alps is expected to have major impacts on winter tourism. Many ski-regions have mean elevations below 2,000 m

Swiss ski areas are located on average at higher altitude than those of neighbouring countries. The ski industry, therefore, is expected to be less affected in Switzerland

So far, forest fires do not constitute a significant hazard in the central and northern parts of the Alps, while on the southern side they are more common

The impact of climate change on hydropower production in the Swiss Alps during the 21st century has been assessed by combining climate projections ...

By 2100, Rhône runoff, for instance, is projected to change in seasonality and amount compared to the current climate ...

According to research among stakeholders, the most important impacts of climate change on tourism in Switzerland are snowpack reduction, melting glaciers, and water scarcity ...

The extremes of possible climate-change-driven habitat range size reductions are commonly based on two assumptions ...


I recommend

National plans/strategies for Switzerland

  • Switzerland’s Sixth National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (2014). Download.

Reports/papers that present a sound overview for Switzerland

  • OcCC/ProClim- (2007). Climate change and Switzerland 2050. Expected impacts on environment, society and economy. Download.

Reports/papers that focus on important Swiss topics

  • Agriculture and Forestry: Fuhrer et al. (2006). Climate risks and their impact on agriculture and forests in Switzerland. Download.
  • Avalanches and Landslides: Gruber et al. (2004). Permafrost thaw and destabilization of Alpine rock walls in the hot summer of 2003. Download.
  • River flood risk: Federal Department for the Environment, Energy, Transport and Communications DETEC (2008). The Floods of 2005 in Switzerland. Synthesis Report on the Event Analysis. Download.
  • Tourism: Agrawala (2007). Climate Change in the European Alps. Adapting winter tourism and natural hazards management.

Reports/papers that present a sound overview for Europe

  • Eisenreich (2005). Climate change and the European water dimension. A report to the European water directors.
  • European Environment Agency (2005). Vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in Europe. Download.
  • European Environment Agency, JRC and WHO (2008). Impact of Europe’s changing climate – 2008 indicator-based assessment. Download.

Reports/papers that focus on specific topics, relevant for all of Europe

  • Agriculture: Rounsevell et al. (2005). Future scenarios of European agricultural land use II. Projecting changes in cropland and grassland. Download.
  • Agriculture: Fischer et al. (2005). Socio-economic and climate change impacts on agriculture: an integrated assessment, 1990–2080. Download.
  • Biodiversity: Thuiller et al. (2005). Climate change threats to plant diversity in Europe. Download.
  • Coastal erosion: Salman et al. (2004). Living with coastal erosion in Europe: sediment and space for sustainability. Download.
  • Droughts: Blenkinsop and Fowler (2007). Changes in European drought characteristics projected by the PRUDENCE regional climate models. Download.
  • Droughts: European Environment Agency (2009). Water resources across Europe – confronting water scarcity and drought. Download.
  • Forestry: Seppälä et al. (2009). Adaptation of forests and people to climate change. A global assessment report. Download.
  • Health: Kosatsky (2005). The 2003 European heat waves. Download.
  • Health: WHO (2008). Protecting health in Europe from climate change. Download.
  • Insurance and Business: Mills et al. (2005). Availability and affordability of insurance under climate change. A growing challenge for the U.S. Download.
  • Security and Crisis management: German Advisory Council on Global Change (2007). World in transition: Climate change as a security risk. Summary for policy-makers. Download.
  • Storms: Gardiner et al. (2010). Destructive storms in European forests: Past and forthcoming impacts. Download.
  • Storms: Pinto et al. (2007). Changing European storm loss potentials under modified climate conditions according to ensemble simulations of the ECHAM5/MPI-OM1 GCM. Download.
  • Tourism: Deutsche Bank Research (2008). Climate change and tourism: Where will the journey lead? Download.

Weblogs in French and/or German

EU funded Research Projects



Avalanches and landslides


Climate change scenarios

Climate change impacts and vulnerabilities

Droughts and water scarcity


Fresh water resources



Mitigation / adaptation options and costs

Security and Crisis management


Transport, Infrastructure and Building

Urban areas

Storms Switzerland

There is a lot of cross-border information on storms in Northern, Western and Central Europe. This information is summarized on the page for Europe in the window 'Storms: European scale'. Additional information that specifically refers to individual countries is presented on the Storm pages of these countries.

Vulnerabilities - Trends in the past

Economic losses from windstorms significantly increased in Switzerland between 1950 and 2010 (10). On a centennial timescale, increasing damage to Swiss forests from winter storms between 1858 and 2007 was found (11). Windstorms have accounted for approximately 1/3 of the total losses relating to buildings from natural hazards in Switzerland since 1950 (10). Storms are also the main damage factor to Swiss forests (12). This increase is due to decadal variability (9): from an analysis of quantitative (e.g., volumes of windfall timber, losses relating to buildings) and descriptive (e.g., forestry or insurance reports) information on the impact of historical windstorms, a time series of high-impact windstorms in Switzerland since 1859 was reconstructed. It was concluded that storminess in Switzerland during the 20th century was high until around 1920, then low to medium until around 1970. The latest 40 years were characterized by a gradual increase from the calm 1970s to the extreme storms in the 1990s and a quieter situation since. The decadal variability is present in both the wind data (i.e., the hazard) as well as the loss and damage information (9).

The incidence of heavy storms affecting Swiss forests increased in the last decade of the 20th century. In 1990, Hurricane Vivian damaged a volume of 4.9 million m3 of wood. Forest damage due to Hurricane Lothar at the end of 1999 was the most severe ever recorded: 13.8 million m3 of timber was felled (compared with a normal annual harvest of 4.5 million m3), and an area of about 46,000 hectares was severely affected (1).

With ongoing population growth, economic development, and urban sprawl on the one hand and very few extreme events causing severe damage from the early to the late 20th century on the other hand, more and more buildings have been placed in exposed areas. Accordingly, the damage potential of floods, mudflows, landslides or winter storms has become much larger. Climate change adds a new risk to this situation as the frequency and magnitude of extreme events increases (1).

Vulnerabilities - Projections for the future

According to a study by Swiss Re and ETH Zürich (2,3), winter storms represent the largest loss potential for Europe and the second largest for Switzerland, where only loss potential from floods is higher. Several climate models were coupled with an insurance loss model and future damage by winter storms was examined. Results indicate that by the end of the 21st century (2071-2100), total losses in Europe could increase by 20 to 70% (compared to the reference period 1961-1990). In Switzerland, an average increase in losses due to winter storms by about 20% (0 to 50%, depending on the climate model) is expected (1).

The scenarios for storms are very uncertain. Some models indicate that the frequency of storms is likely to decrease in central Europe. At the same time, the intensity of storms will probably increase (2). Generally the tracks of cyclones and storms are expected to shift polewards, which would reduce the probability of Switzerland being hit (1).

Adaptation strategies

Significant financial resources will be needed for the implementation of measures to adapt to changes in the magnitude of extreme events. However, compared to the estimated cost of inaction (4), adaptation will cost only a fraction and has multiple benefits which are going far beyond the reduction of risk in relation to climate change (1).


In Switzerland no forestry insurance is active but a catastrophic fund is in place (8). Studies investigating insurance for storm damage in forests in Switzerland and Germany have shown low enthusiasm among forest owners for insurance under current economic and legal policies (5,6). The main reasons identified are the low economic importance of the forest to many forest owners and low risk awareness or rather underestimation of risks, in light of the long productivity times in forestry (5,7). The disaster relief practice of many states to compensate widely for storm damage decreases the incentive for forest owners to take their own precautions (5).

Artificial protective measures

From 2000 to 2003, the federal government provided funds of CHF 393 million for measures to prevent bark beetle infestation of the remaining stands and to restore destroyed forests. A similar level of support was provided by the cantons. Heavy storms may lead to a loss in the protective functions of forests for downslope areas. The need for temporary artificial protective measures cannot be judged in general terms but must be assessed case by case, depending on the local situation and the potential damage involved. In many cases, leaving the trees lying on the devastated area can ensure sufficient protection for a limited time. Under the present conditions of low demand for wood, this way of managing storm damage has become more common (1).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Switzerland.

  1. Federal Office for the Environment FOEN (Ed.) (2009)
  2. Swiss Re (2006), in: Federal Office for the Environment FOEN (Ed.) (2009)
  3. Frei et al. (2006), in: Federal Office for the Environment FOEN (Ed.) (2009)
  4. Ecoplan (2007), in: Federal Office for the Environment FOEN (Ed.) (2009)
  5. Holthausen et al. (2004), in: Gardiner et al. (2010)
  6. Hänsli et al. (2002), in: Gardiner et al. (2010)
  7. Schwierz et al. (2010), in: Gardiner et al. (2010)
  8. Gardiner et al. (2010)
  9. Stucki et al. (2014)
  10. Imhof (2011), in: Stucki et al. (2014)
  11. Usbeck et al. (2010a), in: Stucki et al. (2014)
  12. Usbeck et al. (2010b), in: Stucki et al. (2014)