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WEATHER

Fact check: Did it really use to snow more often in December in Germany?

For most people, a white Christmas is the ideal. However, snow is quite rare during the holidays in most of Germany. Some say it used to snow more often, but is that really true?

Fact check: Did it really use to snow more often in December in Germany?
A decorated Christmas tree stands on a farmer's land in Unterjoch, Bavaria. This sight may become rarer in the future due to climate change. Photo: DPA

Presents piled under the Christmas tree, piping-hot holiday treats, plus a snow-covered landscape: that's how many imagine the perfect Christmas holidays.

But this combination is relatively rare for Germans. Was a white Christmas more common in the past? Let's look at the facts.

CLAIM: Snow during Christmas was more common in previous years. 

FACT: Not true.The German Weather Service, or Der Deutsche Wetterdienst (DWD), has strict requirements for a “White Christmas”: there must be at least one centimeter of snow on the ground at 7 am on all festive days (Christmas Eve as well as December 25th and 26th).

READ ALSO: Why Germany is among top three countries affected by climate change

“The event was always relatively rare,” explains DWD meteorologist Andreas Friedrich. Comprehensive weather data has been collected in all of Germany since 1961, but certain regions have data stretching back to 1881, according to DWD.

In 2010 there was a blanket of snow covering almost all of Germany, and in the 1960s, there were several years in a row where many places in Germany had a white Christmas. However, no general trend can be derived from these individual years, Friedrich says.

Nonetheless, the winters definitely used to be colder. According to DWD data, Germany’s December has warmed by 1.7C since 1881. In December 2018, the average temperature throughout Germany was 3.9C.

READ ALSO: Snow, ice and fog hit Germany as winter arrives

“Every children’s book and every advertisement depicts a white Christmas rather than a ‘green Christmas,’ which would be much more realistic in Germany,” says Professor Joachim Curtius from the Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main.

People tend to idealize the rare white Christmas rather than celebrations in bad weather and rain.

A Christmas tree is reflected in a puddle at a Christmas Market in Frankfurt am Main. This may be a sight Germans see more often than snow-covered roofs. Photo: DPA

CLAIM: White Christmases vary depending on the German region.

FACT: That's true. There are several factors that play into the likelihood of this phenomenon. Altitude, for example, and for some regions, the distance to the ocean also plays a role. On the Heligoland islands the probability for snowy holidays is two percent, according to DWD.

And in Berlin and Brandenburg, the probability of a white Christmas is higher than in Lower Saxony.

CLAIM: There are places in Germany where snow is guaranteed on Christmas

FACT: That's right. “There has been a white Christmas on the Zugspitze since the beginning of the weather record there in 1880,” says Friedrich. At lower altitudes, the probability sinks.

CLAIM: The snow probability is highest in December.

FACT: Not true. The coldest times of the year are usually from late January to early February, says DWD expert Friedrich. “If you could push Christmas to these months, it would be easier to experience a white Christmas.”

According to DWD figures, it sometimes snows in mid-December, but shortly before Christmas mild Atlantic air often flows from the west to Germany.

“The notorious Christmas Thaw is coming,” writes the DWD. The warm air typically lifts any snow cover.

According to Professor Curtius, the dream of white Christmas will continue to be rare: “In the course of climate change, at least for the next decades, the likelihood of a white Christmas will continue to decline because temperatures will fall below zero less and less often.”

 

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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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