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Topsy turvy

Storm winds sweep over Switzerland

Storm winds in various parts of Switzerland have prevented a number of popular mountain railways and cable cars from operating as normal on Christmas day, including the Jungfrau railway which runs up to Europe’s highest station.

Also cancelled in the Bernese Oberland until the early afternoon was the Wengernalp railway, that links Grindelwald and Wengen with the Kleine Scheidegg.

In canton Graubünden in the far south east, the spectacular Unesco World Heritage line between Pontresina and Poschiavo suffered storm damage and the service was temporarily halted.

At Rheineck, just south of Lake Constance in the north east, St Gallen cantonal police said a summer house was blown onto the railway track and damaged by a train.

Households in some parts of central Switzerland were deprived of electricity when two power lines were damaged in separate incidents around midnight on Tuesday. All power had been restored by early afternoon on Christmas Day.

The storms were caused by Foehn winds – a system that arises when strong winds blow across mountain ranges, producing warm, dry winds in the lee of the range. Alpine foehns are common in Switzerland in spring and in winter.

In the mountains winds of almost record speeds were measured, leading to the closure of some skiing areas. In Gütsch above Andermatt in central Switzerland gusts of 208 km/hr were registered, the third highest speed for a foehn wind ever recorded there.

In the Rhine Valley near Chur in canton Graubünden, on the night of Christmas Eve it never fell below 12.4 degrees, making it the warmest December night ever measured there, despite the fact that the wind reached speeds of 110 km/hr, the second highest Chur has experienced since records began.

As a cold front set in on Christmas Day, the winds died down, giving way to rain and snow. The Institute of Snow and Avalanche Research has warned of the risk of avalanches. and agencies