Europe Weather Pattern Generates Feet of Snow, Coastal Flooding, Even Middle East Snow, Dust

Jonathan Erdman
Published: January 9, 2019

Europe has arguably had the most interesting weather pattern anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere in the first days of 2019, resulting in feet of snow and coastal flooding, high winds and blowing dust in parts of Europe and the Middle East.

It started with a powerhouse storm sweeping in from the North Atlantic into Scandinavia and northern Europe as the new year arrived.

The so-called Storm Zeetje brought the first storm surge of the year on the Baltic coast of Germany and southern Denmark.

After a storm tide, cars sit in the water at the harbor in Wismar, Germany, on Jan. 2, 2019.
(Bernd Wüstneck/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Strong onshore winds drove water levels up to 6 feet above normal in Wismar, Germany, on Jan. 2, flooding parts of the city center. Flooding was also reported in the coastal towns of Flensburg, Kiel and Travemunde, and storm surge drove water up the Trave River into the town of Lubeck.

Water levels in some parts of Denmark were the highest in two decades, the CPH Post reported. A 5- to 6-foot surge was measured at Bagenkop, on Langeland Island about 100 miles southwest of Copenhagen, a level only reached one other time in 42 years.

The pounding waves washed out sections of trails along the coast and partially sank boats along parts of the Baltic coast.

Another storm tide accompanied a second storm sweeping into northern Europe on January 8 and 9 in the coastal town of Wismar, and also driving the Elbe River into flood in Hamburg, Germany.

Feet of Snow

The system then took a sharp nosedive into eastern Europe, driving moist cold air into the higher elevations and wringing out prolific mountain snow over parts of the Alps and other mountain ranges of eastern and southern Europe.

Ski resorts on the Austrian Alps reported 3 to 7 feet of snow in the first days of January, prompting some resorts to close.

Photos and video showed snow-choked roads and parking lots, buried vehicles, blocked building entrances, even a stranded train. Trees were downed by the combination of snow and wind in Bavaria.

The heavy snow and persistent wind triggered several deadly avalanches.

(MORE: Avalanches Turn Deadly

"Probably one of the worst winters in the Alps for avalanches was January-February 1999," said Leon Brown, head of global meteorological operations with The Weather Company, an IBM Business.

According to Brown, up to 5 meters – about 16.4 feet – of snow built up in the Alps in less than a month's time 20 years ago, triggering thousands of avalanches.

"This current pattern with northwest winds and moisture from the North Atlantic and North Sea is similar and brings some of the highest avalanche risk to the northern side of the Alps," Brown said.

The jet-stream pattern in place during the first days of 2019 featured a sharp, southward plunge of the jet stream guiding cold air into eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. A nose of high pressure over the U.K., Ireland and the Iberian Peninsula kept the weather there mostly tranquil.

A second wave of heavy snow began pounding the Alps Tuesday, and will persist into Thursday, followed by another siege of snow lasting into next Tuesday.

Brown told another 2 to 3 meters - roughly 6.5 to 10 feet - of snow was expected over parts of the Austrian and Swiss Alps through Tuesday, worsening the concern for avalanches and communities to be cut off due to the sheer volume of snow.

Alps Snowfall Forecast

It wasn't just the Alps.

Feet of snow buried parts of southern Poland, including the resort town of Zakopane, near the border with Slovakia.

Cold, bora winds howling off the Balkans over the warmer Adriatic Sea generated sea-effect snow that pounded the Apennine Mountains of central and southern Italy.

Residents of some Italian villages resorted to digging narrow alleys to get through city streets.

At times, ground blizzard conditions were observed, resembling those you might see in America's northern Plains.

In this case, the air was cold enough to produce snow at some southern Italian beaches.

Heavy snow also triggered travel headaches in Greece, snarling travel through the mountains in northern and central Greece, blanketing Thessaloniki. Snow was even expected in Athens Monday into Tuesday, leading to the shutdown of schools, the Greek Reporter said.Snow in Istanbul, Turkey, delayed flights Friday and Monday. Much heavier snow fell over mountain locations of central and eastern Turkey, burying parking lots in the city of Bitlis.

Ankara's Esenboga Airport reported 15 centimeters of snow – about 6 inches – Monday.

This impressive pattern also affected parts of the Middle East.

Civil Defense workers struggle to push a stranded car on a street in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. A strong storm and heavy rainfall turned streets in Lebanon into rivers of water and mud and paralyzed parts of the country. The government ordered schools shut with snow expected to fall across the country at altitudes of 600 meters.
(AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanon has been hit particularly hard for five days. Heavy snow stranded motorists and prompted school closings in the higher elevations of Lebanon Sunday and Monday, the Naharnet Newsdesk reported.

Bulldozers were called in to clear the main highway between Beirut and Damascus, Syria, after it was buried by a meter (about 3.3 feet) of snow, the Associated Press reported.

Torrential rain turned streets into rushing rivers in Beirut and in the northern suburb Antelias, swamping the lower floor of some buildings.

Floodwaters tore through makeshift tents housing Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley. The U.N. refugee agency estimated 11,000 refugees in 151 settlements were affected by flooding, heavy snow or cold weather, the Associated Press Reported.

Strong winds whipped up waves that battered the coast in Beirut.

Farther south, high winds whipped up dust, reducing visibility in Gaza City Sunday.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.