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

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

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.