Nine killed in Austrian avalanches in deadly weekend as danger remains

Nine people died in three days of more than 100 avalanches rolling across Austria as warmer temperatures followed heavy snowfall, creating particularly dangerous conditions, authorities said on Sunday.

Snow-covered mountain in Austria.
Recent years have seen avalanches claim around 20 lives a year in Austria. Photo by Dating Scout on Unsplash

Most of the avalanches hit the western Tyrol region and Friday alone saw five fatalities, rescue services said.

That day, four Swedish skiers and their Austrian tour guide – all in their 40s – were killed when a 400-metre-wide avalanche, near the town of Spiss on the Swiss border, buried them, Austrian broadcaster Orf said.

A sixth member of their group was only partially buried by the snow and was able to phone for help. He was airlifted to hospital with injuries.

Also Friday, a man aged 60 and his wife of 61 were engulfed while cross-country skiing near the village of Auffach, Tyrol police said.

Saturday then saw a 58-year-old Austrian killed at Schmirn near Innsbruck in an avalanche which injured four others, Austrian broadcaster Orf reported.

Further west, an experienced skier of 43 was killed in the popular Vorarlberg region as Austria saw exceptional quantities of snow fall going into and across the weekend.

Five winter sports enthusiasts were buried by snowfall in the major resort of Soelden but were all rescued.

“The past three days have seen some 100 avalanche-type incidents requiring 70 interventions,” Tyrol regional authorities said Sunday, dubbing the situation “unprecedented” and warning of more to come.

“Considerable” risk
The region’s avalanche warning service (Lavinenwarndienst), which closely examines avalanche cones (the mass deposited where an avalanche has fallen) and where they break off, said that there was still “considerable avalanche danger” on Sunday, with further snow forecast for Monday.

The risk level for the region – in orange in the above map from the service – stood at three on a five-point scale on Sunday.

Artificially triggered avalanches and stability tests on the structure of the snow cover confirmed the delicate avalanche situation in the region.

Fresh snow and snowdrifts had fallen on weak old snow, making the structure particularly unfavourable, the service explained, adding that weak layers in old snow can be difficult to recognise.

Booming noises and cracks when stepping on a snowpack are clear signs of a weak structure.

Anyone who skis off the secured pistes needs to be an expert at avalanche assessment, Rudi Mair, head of the avalanche warning service, told Orf.

Recent years have seen avalanches claim around 20 lives a year in Austria, fewer over the past two years after the pandemic vastly reduced skier numbers.


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Sun then thunderstorms: Extreme weekend weather forecast for Austria

Summer brings extreme weather events in Austria, with storms causing damage and temperatures rising above 35C.

Sun then thunderstorms: Extreme weekend weather forecast for Austria

The next few days will have unstable weather in Austria, with severe thunderstorms and extreme heat, according to Austria’s Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG).

Thunderstorms start on Friday throughout the country, especially in the north and south regions. Temperatures are higher in the East, with Burgenland seeing up to 36C. In the east, a cold front will bring down the temperatures to 18C in Vorarlberg and 23C in Tyrol.

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Friday evening will be colder all over Austria, with minimum temperatures of 12C in the west and 17C in the east.

Sunny and hot weekend ahead

On Saturday, there will be lots of sunshine in all of Austria, with only a few clouds in Tyrol. Temperatures rise to 30C during the day and wind blows weakly to moderately, according to ZAMG.

READ ALSO: Heatwave: Nine of the coolest places in Austria

Sunday will also be a sunny day, with few clouds in parts of the country. However, after a fresh morning, with minimum temperatures of 13C in Salzburg and Upper Austria, the heat comes back and thermometers will mark about 30C in most of Austria.

The institute said that clouds could form and develop into small-scale heat thunderstorms.

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Rainy week from Monday

Starting Monday, there is a change in the weather. At least temporary sunshine should show up, but more and more clouds will be noticeable, especially in the west. The region will gradually see some rain showers and thunderstorms. Only the eastern and southern states should not expect rain.

READ ALSO: Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

Temperatures are still high, though, with a maximum of 33C in Burgenland and a minimum of 15C in parts of Tyrol, Salzburg, and Styria.

On Tuesday, there will be rain all over Austria, though some sunny phases may alternate with the rain showers. Especially in the south and parts of the east, thunderstorms can be expected. Wind over the Danube valley will be stronger than in the rest of Austria.

The early temperatures are between 12C and 21C, while afternoon temperatures can be between 22C and 30C.