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WEATHER

Why Germany probably isn’t on track for coldest winter in a century

Summer was barely over this year before forecasts of the worst winter of the past 100 years began to emerge in the media. But, according to the German Weather Service (DWD), these predictions are most likely wishful thinking.

Why Germany probably isn't on track for coldest winter in a century
Photo: DPA

Every year before the start of winter (which meteorologically speaking begins on December 1st) weather forecasters are pushed to predict what the season will be like. Is it going to be icy? Will we get a lot of snow? Will we have a white Christmas?

While some media outlets were keen to warn readers of the arrival of the coldest winter in 100 years, the answer from the DWD appears to be a resounding “Who knows?”

Wetter.com even went as far as to state that there is a 99.9% chance of this not being the coldest winter in a century.

The dramatic winter weather predictions were not completely unfounded though, but were based on the start of a period of minimal activity in our sun's cycle. 

According to the American Geophysical Union, Solar cycles last around 9 to 13 years and are measured by the number of visible sunspots; fewer sunspots mean less activity and therefore less heat reaching the Earth. 

In times of lower UV activity, cold air forms high above the tropics, affecting air currents and bringing winds from the east and causing some of the coldest winters in northern European history.

While a minimum point in the solar cycle is certainly approaching, the lowest point of activity is expected around the winter of 2019 to 2020, Wetter.com reports, so we still have a little time to stock up on firewood and grit before then.

Even then, it is unlikely that the temperatures will get low enough to beat the coldest winter of the past 100 years, which took place in 1962 to 1963, when temperatures were around 5.5C colder across Germany than the average for that time of year.

But solar cycles aren't the only factor in our Earth's chaotic atmosphere that affect the weather. For example, the coldest winter in the 21st century so far was between 2009 and 2010, according to Wetter Online, which was not in line with a minimum point in a solar cycle. 

Overall meteorologists are reluctant to make long-term sweeping predictions about an entire season. For these, meteorologists can only extrapolate on climate models, making predictions based on patterns in data collected over decades.

According to the DWD, the main prediction they can make about the coming winter is that it will be generally wetter and warmer than winters in the time period between 1981 and 2014.

What is certain, however, is that many mountainous areas across Germany are enjoying a snowy start to the winter meaning a number of ski resorts are already open for the season.

Last year, temperatures in Germany were around 1C warmer than average in the winter, according to Wetter.de. This had unfortunate effects of snow levels in German ski resorts and meant much of the country only had one or two weeks of snow in January to enjoy or complain about.

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READER QUESTIONS

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?

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