June 2019: Dramatic Hailstorm put sailors in danger and a monster Heatwave.

May 2019 was the first month in Middle Europe for a long time which wasn’t too hot. There were some rainy days. It seemed that weather might turn in a more “normal” mode compared to 2018. This was before June. In the larger Munich area people experienced a freak hail storm on Whit Monday. There was also severe weather in other parts of Germany in the first half of June. Later the month, large parts of Europe suffered from one of the most extreme heatwaves ever recorded.

Aftermath of severe Hailstorm in Munich region

Thunderstorms and severe weather didn’t came unexpected on pentecost. Weather models showed a highly likelyhood for thunderstorms in the Alps and the Upper Bavaria region. However the events on June 10 proved again how tricky severe weather developments can be and how difficult it is to set precicely the right weather alert in motion.

Sunday, June 9, was more or less a qiet day. It was getting warmer in Upper Bavaria and other regions. There were already weather warnings issued. On Monday, June 10, the alert system of the huge lake Ammersee south-west of Munich was activated in the morning hours, but then it was quiet for most of the day. A lot of tourists enjoyed the holiday in Germany. People were swimming and sailing. Weather forecasters and and the lifeguard service were still expecting something to happen.




The weather radar showed signals getting stronger in the Allgäu and the Upland before the Alps around Kempten after noon. Here an incredibly strong cell was building up. When I checked the radar a couple of times in the early afternoon however, I couldn’t figure out which path that storm would take. I also didn’t figured out how fast this monsterstorm would move eastwards, so I was also surprised when it suddenly became really dark on this summer afternoon.

It was around 16.23pm when the orange alarm lights at the Bavarian lakes were activated again. There were still a lot of sailors out there. At one lake the lifeguard service warned people who were still swimming in the “Wörthsee” and closed the shore. 50 minutes later all hell brake loose on lake Ammersee. The Starnberger Merkur Newspaper later published a very interesting coverage.

Alex Beck, a sailor, told later the Merkur-reporters that the storm-cell was “racing”. Very soon the lifeguard service had to solve hands full over the next hours.

The same applied to firestarters and police: The thunderstorm left a path of destruction beginning in the Allgäu, hit several communities around the North side of the lake Ammersee region and also hit the west and the north of the Munich area.

Hailstorms in Upper Bavaria are not unusual. There is particularly a history for severe weather in May and around Pentecoste. What’s so unusual was the path, which was hard to predict. Big hail is often more seen in the South-East were there is even a special cloudseeding flyer unit for this problem. I didn’t find any report from a professional weather researcher, but I am sure this was a strong super-cell. Super-cells are more likely to take unusual paths.

The intensity was the other unusual fact. I experienced also strong wind gusts and smaller hail but 10 km to the north it was raining hailstones with the size of tennis balls.

Within minutes roofs very destroyed, nameless cars damaged, a motorway tunnel was set under water, greenhouses were completely destroyed and also a grocery store. It ended up in estimated damage cost of 30 Mio. Euros.

The same time people on the lake Ammersee were struggling for their lives. A couple hung on their capsized sailing boat, others were stranded and another sailor couple were only safed by their “persenning”, a cover, from the hail bombardement. They had reached a buoy but couldn’t leave their ship. Then they had to wait out the storm. At this time they experienced waves like never before according the their account in the “Starnberger Merkur” newspaper.

Another thunderstorm in June

The following weeks people began to recover from the hailstorm, settling insurance matters and repairing windows, cars and houses. There were more thunderstorms but nothing like the cell on June 10. However another extreme weather situation was already throwing a shadow.

Weather models predicted an enormorous heatwave for the second half of June. Weather services were astonished by themselves about the numbers. And the models were mostly right. Germany saw new temperature records but not the 40 degrees Celsius. Nevertheless, there were set many new records. It didn’t took long and the bushfires, which were a problem in May started, again.

France saw the worst with some over 40 degree Celsius records. The authorities had to issue a state of emergency in some areas. Particularly Southern France was affected.

The situation calmed by the end of month. On July 1, 2019, a cold front with thunderstorms reached Southern Germany. There are still wildfires raging. The heatwave is only part of a problem which has the potential to become the real big threat for the near future: In wide parts of Germany there is still a drought. The government published recently a study about the effects of a drought lasting several years.

cold front and thunderstorms July 1, 2019

Series Of Strong Windstorms In March 2019

After a period of warm days in February 2019 with a constant high-pressure system over Middle Europe weather became more dynamic. With the jet stream moving to Europe a series of low-pressure systems reached the continent. It was very windy for a couple of days. Severe weather was included with European windstorms as “Bennet” and “Eberhard” (known as Freya in the UK) and even a tornado. In Germany, (Nordrhein-Westfalen in particular) France and Switzerland wind gusts led to serious damage. There is an estimate that in Germany insured property losses of around EUR 800 million happened. Travel by train was stopped for one day creating chaos for travellers in Middle Europe.

Storm Eberhard arrives March 10, 2019 in Upper Bavaria with winds of 10 Beaufort strength

The sky was always turbulent with many interesting cloud patterns which allowed some impressing storm pictures. In Germany and Europe, the change in weather was welcomed because there is still a need for rain. Last year’s extreme drought left a lot of problems. Particularly the forest areas need still a lot of water to recover from the drought. It did indeed rain a lot in some areas but there is still a need for much more rain in the next months. The weeks in February with unusual long lasting dry weather raised already concerns for a new drought coming in 2019.

Storms are pretty normal in March. There had been even extreme windstorms in previous decades. Thus, the period of days with windy weather is no exception from the rule. But it was interesting that wind was blowing for many hours with strong wind gusts. This led to questions if this is a normal weather pattern. Honest answers prove to be difficult.

The rising numbers of weather anomalies due to climate change during the last years provoke a higher-sensibility to unusual weather phenomena. However, the weather is always like a big drama. There is an incredible variety of extremes. Researchers need to observe weather over long time spans to identify anomalies and unusual trends.

On the other side, Europe is affected by a number of winter windstorms over the last 30 years with the most damaging storms 1989/90. Insurances are alarmed about the rising cost of damage. Since these storm events are still relatively rare further research is required. The UK Met-office published recently a study with the most important findings of winter windstorms.

The series of storms showed some interesting developments. The wind came mostly from the west, sometimes South-West. In Upper-Bavaria there were days where there was a very good long distant view. The Alps appeared very clearly.

Waves hitting shore and a clear sight of the Alps in the background, Saturday, March 16, Lake Ammersee.

At the end of the weeks with stormy weather, there were showers with snow and little hail. This created some impressing sights shortly before sunset

In the aftermath of windstorm Eberhard temperatures decreased and there were snow and little hail showers illuminated by the sun.

A look into the south with a shower cloud above the Bavarian Upland

There were huge waves on the lakes in Bavaria due to the storm. A lot of driftwood appeared on the Eastern side of Lake Ammersee. It was an unusual sight. The lake appeared more like a shore at the Baltic Sea.

A lake in Upper Bavaria with waves.

After March 18 the weather calmed down. A high-pressure system led to cold but sunny weather in Southern Germany.

JANUARY 2019: MASSES OF SNOW

January 2019 began with new weather extremes in Central Europe. After the long drought in 2018 a lot of people hoped there would be rain and snow. Everywhere in Middle Europe there was too little rainfall from early 2018 til November 2018. In Berlin the river Spree was flowing backwards. There were concerns about the pheatric levels. Rain or Snow was indeed urgently needed to redeem the situation. Then the snow came but in a way that it created new problems.

After January 5 it was snowing in the alpine countries. However the winter dream turned for some places into a nightmarish situation. It didn’t stopped snowing for days. Villages in Austria and Germany were isolated and couldn’t any longer reached by cars. The problem: Snow and wind turned trees into dangerous obstacles.

Felled trees were lying on rail tracks and blocked many roads. It became also a rising danger for pedestrians. In Upper Bavaria an emergency alert was issued in the well known tourist areas of Berchtesgaden and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The snow was growing and growing and became too heavy for the roofs of many buildings. Some roofs had already collapsed. The danger of avalanches was continually rising. Casualties happened because some ski-tourists didn’t listen to the warnings.  In the countryside there were countless car accidents due to bad road conditions.

Beginning with the night of January 12-13 the situation started to become more severe. There was again heavy snowfall but also the temperature began to rise. It also started to rain in lower areas. This is a big problem because it makes the snow much heavier. The danger of trees and buildings collapsing was rising and it still is.

January 13 a severe storm is announced. It stems from another low pressure system arriving from the North. There was already a storm-flood in Northern Germany. Usually the time of mid-January is often a very cold time of the year with long lasting high pressure systems.

Weather researchers are saying this could also related to the changed climate conditions in the arctic. It is somehow a mirror image of the situation in summer when high pressure systems didn’t move any longer and created the drought. Now it is a situation where low pressure systems are hitting against the alps because there is generally not much exchange in the atmosphere. There is again a weather pattern where the same weather conditions last longer as expected.

Extreme situations in the winter happened before in 2006 and 1999 when there was a terribly tragedy due to avalanches in the Austrian Alps in Galtür. Since then a lot of protection measures were put into place in the Alps.



Nevertheless winter is always a great photo-motive: Wind and snow are creating sculptures. If you look you can see also often a “blue light” in the snow. This happens due to refractions of light in the snow.

Weather services are still warning about severe conditions the coming week beginning January 14. Perhaps later there will be some sunshine and people can enjoy the beauty of a winter in the mountains.

DYING FOREST SYNDROME IN THE HARZ MOUNTAINS

Do you remember the “Dying Forest Syndrome” in the 80ties? That was a really huge political issue in Germany and some other countries. 30 years ago there was a nearly apocalyptic fear that the forests could decline due to acid rain. 

Scientists found that air pollution had led to critical concentration of chemicals even far away from the power plants or industries which were responsible. Images of dead trees particularly from the Black Forest, the Harz Mountains and the Bavarian Forest shocked the public.

A huge change in society followed. The political debate led to the rise of the German Green party. New laws were put into place. The apocalypse didn’t happen and the German word “Waldsterben” wasn’t any longer in the news.

But matters proved to be much more tricky as expected. The forest recovered. Certainly, the measures to protect the air were helpful but later scientists found that there were huge mistakes in their assumptions.

It wasn’t always acid rain. Today we know it is a complex chain of factors which isn’t fully understood yet.

Again we see dramatic images in the Harz Mountains. These pictures were taken on a trip on the Western side near Torfhaus and the “Achtermann” peak in summer 2018. There is a fantastic trail from Torfhaus to Braunlage, a skiing centre in the winter. But during the walk, there is indeed a feeling of apocalypse. Getting closer to Braunlage the scenery reminded me of the Doomsday drama “The Road”.

Officials of the National Park say everything is okay. This time the culprit is not acid rain. The trees, which are dying were mostly penetrated by the bark beetle. The management of the Harz National Park indeed wants to replace part of the forest and let these trees die.  They want to grow a healthier forest with different kind of trees instead of the spruce monoculture.

It doesn’t need much fantasy to imagine that a big political controversy followed that kind of forest management. But there are a lot of examples that the National Park Management is on the right track. Some years ago there was a similar dispute in the Bavarian Forest. There are examples that the forest recovers even it takes many years before visitors can experience its natural beauty again. And it seems again that we don’t know exactly what’s going on.

Climate change is the new big player in the game. Unlike acid rain and the bark beetle, the outcome is much more unpredictable. The forest is suffering due to heat and drought during the summer months. The Harz Mountains receive usually a lot of rain. They are situated in the far North of Germany and the low-pressure systems coming from the Atlantic deliver rain. The climate in the Harz region is more like in Scandinavia. But that changed over the last years. 2016 was too dry and 2018 was dramatic. The heat provided perfect conditions for the bark beetle and the trees were already weakened because they didn’t get enough water. But there is more.

Over the last years, there had been devastating storms as “Sebastian” and “Friederike” adding to the damage. They felled a huge amount of trees. It is definitely the best strategy to replace the monocultures. But we can’t be sure what is happening – as it was 30 years ago. The National Park Managers do certainly their best but we are in a situation where there are global changes. We begin to live in a different world. More research should be done to develop the right answers. The dying forest syndrome is again a real threat. We don’t know if we really are in control.  We learned that some assumptions about the decline of the forest 30 years ago were in some way wrong and nevertheless there was a real threat. And it is again.  The most important thing is to stay open-minded and push stronger measures for the protection of our forests and further research forward.

Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy