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Swiss shiver as the country freezes

One Swiss stork that probably wishes he'd flown to Africa Keystone

Switzerland is experiencing its coldest start to March in more than 30 years, with temperatures dropping to as low as –32.4 degrees Celsius.

This content was published on March 1, 2005 - 21:55

The cold snap has caused major disruption on the country’s railways, as points and even trains froze.

The Swiss Federal Railways reported dozens of cancellations and delays on Tuesday morning, with western Switzerland hardest hit.

Spokesman Jacques Zulauff said services running in and around the capital, Bern, were heavily disrupted by the glacial conditions.

The wintry weather also struck Tuesday night’s football matches in the Super League, which were cancelled because of frozen pitches.

Temperatures on Monday night were the coldest this winter in Switzerland.

Across the country the mercury dipped well below zero, hitting a low of –32.4 degrees on the Ofen pass in the eastern canton of Graubünden.

It sunk to –29.9 degrees in La Brévine in western Switzerland and reached –15.6 degrees in Bern.

Meteoswiss, a national weather service, is warning that the freeze is likely to continue for the next few days.

Meteoswiss said the freezing start to March followed one of the coldest Februarys in recent years, with average temperatures 2.5 degrees below normal.

It was even chillier in the mountains, which experienced their lowest temperatures in almost two decades.

Wintry conditions

The country’s two biggest producers of road salt said on Tuesday that they had supplied 106,000 tons last month – almost 20 per cent more than the previous year.

But Jürg Liebherr, chief executive of Basel-based United Swiss Saltworks, said there was no point in salting roads once the temperature dropped below –12 degrees.

Experts said a brief period of sub-zero temperatures was unlikely to pose much of a threat to the country’s fauna and flora.

Ornithologist Matthias Kestenholz said birds were perfectly equipped to handle short spells of low temperatures, because their feathers acted like quilts.

However, he said frozen rivers and ponds would make it difficult for herons and kingfishers to find food.

Botanist Jürg Fuhrer said the freezing temperatures were actually a boon to spring flowers since they killed off many harmful insects.

"The situation becomes problematic if the cold returns after a mild period and the buds and shoots have already formed. They can perish when it freezes," he said.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

La Brévine in western Switzerland is considered the coldest inhabited place in Switzerland.
A record cold temperature of –41.8 degrees Celsius was registered on January 12, 1987.
In 1985 temperatures remained between –39 and –41 degrees for a whole week.

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