Storms ‘getting stronger’ due to warmer ground

Storms over Germany have been more intense over the past year, and are causing more damage, because the ground is warmer, weather experts said on Tuesday.

Storms 'getting stronger' due to warmer ground
Photo: DPA

Up to a million bolts of lightning hit European soil each day – every single one of which are tracked and measured by storm monitoring company Nowcast.

Although the numbers have remained constant, their increased strength makes it feel as if there are more storms, said Nowcast head Hans-Dieter Betz.

“It might seem like there has been more lightning than usual this year,” he said. But storms have actually been stronger, he explained. Wild weather phenomena like hail often accompany what would have been a “calmer” storm in the past.

“For that reason it seems like there are more electrical storms, especially in southern Germany,” said Betz.

The reason behind this, Michael Kunz from the Karlsruhe institute for meteorology and climate research explained, was because the ground temperature has risen. This causes rising damp air, which, said Kunz, “is exactly the kind of energy that storm clouds devour. This increases the potential for a storm.”

South-western Germany has particularly seen warmer ground temperatures this year.

Nowcast provides its clients, including Munich airport, the army and the German weather service (DWD), with accurate information about where and how quickly storm clouds are travelling.

When lightning strikes it emits radio waves which are collected by the company’s sensors, allowing the team handling the data to pinpoint a storm to within 100 metres. This is, Betz said, especially handy for airports.

But lightning is not just a risk for aeroplanes and people wandering in large open spaces, normal households are also seeing an increase in how much damage it can do.

The average cost of damage done by lightning annually has risen by 25 percent over the past five years and now stands at around €500,000. If a family home gets hit, they normally have to reckon with an €800 repair bill, according to statistics from the German association of insurers (GDV).

As for the rest of this summer, the DWD has forecast that while it will remain warm it could also be uncomfortably humid – meaning a hearty dose of storms for the whole country.

Betz, despite making his living from lightning, was not enthusiastic about this, saying that “there are enough storms already, so I’m emotionless.”

DAPD/The Local/jcw

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Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?