Motorists warned of delays and danger

Motorists should expect clogged roads and long traffic jams on Thursday as hordes of people go on holiday, compounding the effects of recent bad weather, the ADAC motor club has warned.

Motorists warned of delays and danger
Photo: DPA

Also on Thursday morning, police and fire departments warned of the danger of black ice in the north and east of the country. While the south of Germany could expect warmer temperatures, dangerous conditions would persist further north.

ADAC spokesman Andreas Hölzel said the day before Christmas Eve would be “the worst day” for driving, with “incredible amounts of traffic and many traffic jams” as people hit the roads for skiing holidays or to visit relatives.

The wave of travellers would be hampered by the “chaos and disaster” of recent heavy snow falls, which have caused havoc on the roads along with every other form of transport.

The German Weather Service has forecast snow in the north and west of the country, and rain in the south, on Thursday. Temperatures will be considerably higher than they have in recent days, hitting as much as 10 degrees Celsius in parts of the south. Isolated snow falls will continue overnight in the north. Some snow can also be expected on Friday in the northwest.

The A24 motorway between Berlin and Hamburg had ground to halt early Thursday morning because of icy conditions, police in Potsdam said. The motorway had to be closed near the exit to Neuruppin, northwest of Berlin, because of an accident in which two people – including a police officer – were injured.

The A7 south of Göttingen had to be partially closed due to several accidents caused by ice. Elsewhere in Lower Saxony, centimetre-thick ice formed on the A2 and A39.

“Whoever doesn’t have to drive should leave their auto where it is,” said a state traffic official.

Rain overnight across the state of Brandenburg had also frozen. Motorists were urged to exercise extreme caution.

Police in Kiel in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein reported: “There were heavy snow drifts here overnight. Cars are stuck in places.”

There were also reports of sleet and rain hardening to ice in northern states such as Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

As last week had shown, drivers should plan more time to reach their destinations, Hölzel said. ADAC advises people to listen closely and follow advice given on the radio.

With more snow forecast for parts of Germany over coming days, it was not impossible that motorists might find themselves stuck at motorway rest stops, Hölzel said, adding that in emergency cases it could be wiser for families simply to find a hotel along the way and wait a night.

Motorway service areas were on Wednesday already extremely busy. To cope with the flood of holidaymakers, they had stocked up on de-icing products for windscreens and ice scrapers.

The mass of traffic should have eased by Christmas Eve itself, Hölzel said. While cities might be frantic with last minute shoppers in the morning, the streets would be fairly quiet by Friday afternoon.

The firm Autobahn Tank & Rast will keep its 370 rest facilities open 24 hours a day right through Christmas.

DAPD/The Local/dw

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How the Rhine’s low water levels are impacting Germany

Shocking photos show just how bad the river Rhine looks at the moment after weeks of dry weather. Experts are warning that extreme low water levels are affecting German industry and could hit consumers.

How the Rhine's low water levels are impacting Germany

What’s happening?

Due to the prolonged hot weather and little rainfall in recent weeks, the water levels of the Rhine, one of Europe’s biggest rivers, have dropped sharply. In several places, including near Koblenz, the water level is below one metre. Normal levels here would be 1.50 to 2 metres at this time of year.

Although the Rhine is still carrying more water than in autumn 2018, when the lowest water levels since records began were recorded, it is now moving into this range. At a key measuring point in Kaub near Koblenz, it was just 25 centimetres in 2018. Currently, the water level at this station is 51 centimetres.

The dried up water is causing major problems for German factories which rely on deliveries by ship along the 1,232 km Rhine River.

Weeks of dry weather across Europe have drastically hit water levels on major waterways, and resulted in drought restrictions in some countries. The whole of France has been on a drought alert since the beginning of August.

What does low water on the Rhine mean for shipping?

The Rhine river is important for German inland navigation. Many large industrial centres are located on the river and use it for supplies with raw materials. This includes the BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen and the ThyssenKrupp blast furnaces in Duisburg. Fully loaded transport ships, however, need to have a certain amount of space below the water surface to be able to travel on the river.

A fully loaded transport ship needs at least 1.50 metres – and this is no longer guaranteed everywhere. Many barge operators are therefore only sailing with half or a quarter of the normal load. This means that deliveries become delayed because the same route has to be covered several times.

READ ALSO: More floods, droughts and heatwaves: How climate change will impact Germany

What does the low water mean for industry on the Rhine?

Industrial companies that use the Rhine for deliveries have to pay more money, because ships have to sail more frequently, and there are fewer available cargo ships. In June, for example, transport in a liquid tanker from Rotterdam to Karlsruhe still cost €20 per tonne. Recently it climbed to €94 – almost five times as much.

The second disadvantage for industry is that because ships can transport fewer goods, deliveries are delayed so much that they sometimes no longer arrive in time for production. Nationwide, supplies are still sufficient at the moment, but there have been some issues. 

Which companies are most affected?

Energy company Uniper reported that there could be disruption at two of their power plants until September 7th. The two plants are operated with coal that’s normally delivered via the Rhine.

BASF, the speciality chemicals group Evonik and ThyssenKrupp are so far still able to maintain production from stocks and other sources. “However, we cannot completely rule out reductions in the production rates of individual plants for the next few weeks,” a BASF spokeswoman said.

How important is the Rhine for the German economy?

Although the entire water network used for inland navigation in Germany measures about 6,550 kilometres and includes canals as well as rivers, 80 percent of all goods transport takes place on the Rhine. Its water levels are therefore of massive importance to the German economy. Along with parts of the Elbe, the Weser, the Trave and the Kiel Canal, it is the only waterway that the largest inland vessels can navigate.

The level of the Rhine has dropped sharply.

The water level of the Rhine has dropped in recent weeks, causing major problems. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P Albert

How does the low water affect consumers?

Consumers are of course also affected by low water levels. A 2019 study by researchers from Giessen, for instance, shows that the 2018 low-water period led to a noticeable increase in the price of diesel in the Rhine area of Cologne, even though oil prices fell noticeably at the time.

At the time, the Cologne tide gauge saw a record low of just 69 centimetres. Economists cited the lack of transport options across the water as the reason, and consequently more expensive alternative transport over land.

Now, too, the low water levels are likely to put further pressure on consumers’ wallets – and again primarily at the petrol pump. Due to the stagnant goods traffic via the shipping lanes, less diesel and heating oil is currently arriving in Bavaria, regional broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk reported. 

Why don’t the logistics companies switch to roads and railways?

Many goods can also be transported by lorry or goods train. But the low water levels come at a bad time: due to Covid infections, there are currently a lot of train drivers off sick. And let’s not forget that Germany is suffering from a worker shortage at the moment, and there are not enough lorry drivers.

What happens to the water levels? Will they keep falling?

Unfortunately, experts believe water levels on the Rhine will continue to fall. The Federal Institute of Hydrology currently estimates water levels of 44 centimetres in a fortnight at the Kaub measuring station. The Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration does not forecast significantly rising water levels for any of the measuring stations on the Rhine in the coming period. If there isn’t a lot of rain soon, the record levels of 2018 are well within reach.

What is the overall impact of the low water?

When the record lows were recorded in 2018, Germany’s total industrial production fell by 1.5 per cent. The Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW) expects a decline of 1.0 per cent if water levels are too low for at least 30 days. That may not sound like much, but with the manufacturing industry in Germany having a monthly turnover of around €180 billion per month, one percent is still a huge amount. And as Germany is already having a tough time due to the effects of the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine, this is not what anyone needs. 

READ ALSO: Energy crisis to labour shortage: Five challenges facing Germany right now