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WEATHER

Western Germany hit by second round of severe storms

Parts of Germany were once again pummelled by heavy thunderstorms on Monday - just days after the city of Paderborn was struck by a devastating tornado.

Paderborn tornado aftermath
Residents clear fallen branches and waste away in the aftermath of the Paderborn tornado on Saturday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

A severe weather warning was issued on Sunday by the German Weather Service (DWD), who cautioned residents in western and southwestern regions of the country that fierce gusts of wind, hailstones and heavy rain could once again be on the horizon.

A  second tornado could “not be ruled out” in the southwestern regions of the country, DWD warned. 

North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, were struck by heavy rain and hailstorms and strong gusts of wind throughout the afternoon.

However, the worst of the thunder and hailstorms warnings were for the state of Baden-Württemberg. 

Here, DWD issued a Stage 3 weather warning – the second highest possible. Severe thunderstorms with gale-force winds at speeds of up to 110km per hour were forecast, with up to 50 litres of rain per square metre falling in a short space of time.

According to the meteorologists, the storms are expected sweep across to the eastern regions of the country and ease off in the evening.

The storms and severe weather warnings came days after the city of Paderborn in North Rhine-Westphalia was hit by a devastating tornado.

According to the local fire brigade, 43 people were injured in the storm, with 13 of them needing to be hospitalised and one person reportedly fighting for their life. 

Railway services were cancelled across many parts of the west over the weekend, but resumed again on Monday.

Air travel in some parts of the country was also affected, with Frankfurt Airport in the central state of Hesse saying there was disruption to flights on Friday. 

Videos posted on social media depicted the strongest part of the tornado tearing through the city, ripping trees up by their roots.

The damage to infrastructure and buildings caused by the storm is estimated to be in the millions.

Schools remain closed

As of Monday, several schools and nurseries remained closed in both Paderborn and nearby Lippstadt due to fears that the buildings couldn’t be safely entered.

In the small town of Lippstadt alone, five nurseries and seven schools were closed for repairs on Monday, with administrators unable to say when they would reopen their doors.

“Given the extent of the damage we see at the various locations, it is currently unthinkable that classes can be held there in the next few days,” said Mayor Arne Moritz (CDU).

In Paderborn, meanwhile, drones were exploring five closed school buildings to check whether there was a risk of damaged roofs imploding. The streets where the schools are located have been closed off to the public and the police are believed to be patrolling outside to stop anyone entering.

READ ALSO: Tornado in western Germany injures dozens

Damaged roof in Paderborn

A damaged roof in the aftermath of the Paderborn storms. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

More frequent tornadoes? 

Tornadoes aren’t infrequent in Central Europe, but recently appear to be gaining in frequency and intensity, which experts suggest could be a result of climate change. 

In June 2021, a deadly tornado swept through several villages in the Czech Republic near the Slovakian and Austrian borders, killing six people and injuring a further 200. 

At time, climatologists pointed out that until 2020, the Czech Republic only saw a handful of tornadoes each year – and most of them were relatively mild.

Speaking to WDR on Sunday, climate researcher Dr. Mojib Latif drew a direct parallel between warmer temperatures and more violent and regular storms.  

“In Germany there are approximately between 20 and 40 tornadoes per year,” he told the regional media outlet. “We have to reckon with that. As the climate gets warmer and thunderstorms become more violent, the frequency of tornadoes will also increase.”

However, some experts have been more cautious about drawing a direct link.

“That simply cannot be determined at the moment,” meteorologist Jürgen Schmidt told RND. 

Schmidt thinks the perception that tornadoes have increased in recent years could have a slightly more prosaic explanation.

The fact that people are able to record them on their smartphones and share these images more widely could contribute to this impression, he said. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

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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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