On the weekend when Europe switched back to winter time, most parts of Switzerland got their first taste of winter weather, with snow falling even in the lowlands. Many motorists were caught out, still driving with summer tyres.
The snowy spell comes only a week after record high October temperatures were registered in valleys subject to the föhn wind, the Swiss meteorological service, MeteoSwiss, pointed out.
Police in canton Bern alone reported about 90 accidents on Sunday, although no-one was seriously hurt. Other accidents were reported from all over the country, most of them involving cars skidding or getting stuck.
A pile-up of eight vehicles late on Sunday morning in the western canton of Fribourg left one person “slightly injured,” and caused a lot of damage and closed the road between Châtel-St-Denis and Vaulruz for several hours, local police said.
Police have warned motorists to adapt their speed and driving style to the wintry conditions.
Another hazard is fallen trees and branches blocking roads. Some trees have been uprooted by strong gusts of wind, while the wet snow is weighing down branches which are late in losing their leaves this year.
In the two half-cantons of Basel City and Basel Country people have been warned to keep away from the woods because of the danger of falling branches.
Strong winds also disrupted some local rail traffic.
The weather also took its toll on sporting events. The match between Young Boys of Bern and Lucerne, scheduled for Sunday afternoon at Bern’s Stade de Suisse, had to be postponed because of heavy snow and icy wind. The Swiss Football League will look for a new date on Monday – which will be complicated by the fact that YB is playing in the Europa League.
MeteoSwiss described as “unusual”, the onset of the winter conditions in October in the plateau, although the same thing occurred in 2008 and 2003. But averaged over a long period the first snow usually falls in the second half of November in this area.
It said that in a few locations the record for the amount of snow in October had been broken. This included the capital, Bern, where records have been kept since 1931. It had received eight centimetres by Sunday morning. Bern’s previous record for October dates back to 1939, with seven centimetres.
The snow started on Saturday, and has continued to fall. The Swiss plateau received about ten centimetres overnight. In some places above 500-600 metres there had been up to 20 cm, MeteoSwiss said.
It explained that the air masses that reached Switzerland on the night of Saturday to Sunday had lain over the Arctic Ocean only four days before.
Temperatures are expected to rise again in the next few days, and lower lying areas are likely to be snow-free by Wednesday at the latest.
While the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino was largely spared the snow, strong winds blew down trees, blocking roads, damaging houses and power lines, especially in the area around Lugano.