IN PICTURES: Sahara dust covers Austria in sepia

Some parts of Austria haven't received a drop of rain for weeks. Meanwhile, a huge dust cloud from the Sahara is heading towards Central Europe.

The Austrian alps in Altmünster, Austria. Photo by Simon Berger from Pexels
The Austrian alps in Altmünster, Austria. Photo by Simon Berger from Pexels

Austria is currently experiencing an unusually dry and cold start to spring after several weeks of clear skies and no rain.

Although early spring typically brings rain, the dry weather is set to continue – despite a forecast for some light rain on Tuesday and Wednesday – into the weekend.

According to the Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG), light to moderate rain is expected across Austria on Tuesday evening (apart from in the south). This could continue into Wednesday morning in Salzburg, Styria, Burgenland and Lower Austria.

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But by Thursday, sunshine and dry conditions will return to all regions with temperatures forecast to be in double digits. Vienna can expect a high of 13 degrees on Thursday, while it could rise to 18 degrees in Vorarlberg and Tyrol.

By Saturday, the temperature is set to slightly drop across the country with a high of 10 degrees in Vienna and 13 degrees in Salzburg.

While the sunshine and blue sky is welcomed by many, the dry conditions are causing concern for farmers, and forest fires are already being reported in forest areas.

Forest fires and low groundwater levels

In a typical March, Austria receives around 150 to 200 litres of rain per square metre, according to a report in the Kronen Zeitung. But this year, the rainfall doesn’t even come close to the seasonal average.

As a result, the dry forest floor has already been burning in Ausserfern in the district of Reutte in Tyrol near the border with Bavaria. So far, 35 hectares of forest have been affected and 150 firefighters are involved in trying to extinguish the blaze. 

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Forest fires have also been reported in Carinthia where water from firefighting efforts froze overnight leading to an ice desert in Burgstallberg in the Spittal/Drau District.

Additionally, the water level at Lake Neusiedl in Burgenland is currently 35cm below the typical seasonal levels, and groundwater levels in Carinthia, southern Styria and southern Burgenland are low for the time of year.

However, according to ZAMG, low rainfall in March and April has been common in Austria since the 2000s.

Saharan dust heading to Austria

Another weather phenomenon is heading to Austria this week in the form of a dust cloud from the Sahara.

ZAMG has forecast a “dust event” from Tuesday, with Lower Austria expected to be particularly affected. This means residents could find dust on their cars and windows.

Dust clouds are formed after weather conditions in the Sahara causes sand to be picked up by the wind.

The upside of the dust cloud is the possibility for striking sunsets as the sand in the air is illuminated by the setting sun.

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UPDATE: One dead, one missing in Austrian landslides

Rescue workers were trying to reach three villages in western Austria on Wednesday after landslides due to heavy rains cut off access, according to the Red Cross. One person has died, while another is missing.

UPDATE: One dead, one missing in Austrian landslides

Thunderstorms in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday led to streams in the mountainous Villach-Land district in Carinthia state to burst their banks, causing landslides of mud and debris, said Melanie Reiter, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross in the state, which borders Italy and Slovenia.

“Three villages have been completely cut off… The army and firefighters are trying to clear the streets” to be able to access the villages, she told AFP.

“One person has been found dead unfortunately… outside the home,” a police spokeswoman, who declined to be named, told AFP.

She added that authorities were still looking for another person who has been reported missing while travelling in a car. Austrian news agency APA said the dead victim was a 82-year-old man.

District head Bernd Riepan said “many” houses had been partially buried, though the exact number was not yet known. Photos showed debris-strewn streets and houses partially submerged in water and mud in Villach-Land.

“We are fighting on several fronts,” Riepan told AFP.

“We have dispatched several helicopters… but some of the farms are very remote, and they have yet to be reached.”

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She could not immediately say how many people have been affected.

As of now, there were no reports of anyone injured, but several houses are believed to have been damaged, she said.

“It looks very bad up there,” she said. Elsewhere in the district, photos showed debris-strewn streets as rivers burst their banks and the wind swept off roofs, according to the Austrian news agency APA.

APA quoted Gerhard Hohenwarter from the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics that in Arriach, one of the villages that was cut off, and other places in the region it “rained as much in just a few hours as it does for the entire month for an average June.”

Another community in adjacent Salzburg state was also put on alert as a stream passing through it was threatening to burst its banks, according to the Austrian news agency APA.

As elsewhere in Europe, Austria is experiencing a heat wave with authorities warning of high temperatures and thunderstorms.

Authorities have issued extreme weather warnings around the globe, while experts warn that these phenomena were more evidence of the impact of climate change.