Geophysical Research Letters

Regime shift of snow days in Switzerland



[1] The number of days with a snow depth above a certain threshold is the key factor for winter tourism in an Alpine country like Switzerland. An investigation of 34 long-term stations between 200 and 1800 m asl (above sea level) going back for at least the last 60 years (1948–2007) shows an unprecedented series of low snow winters in the last 20 years. The signal is uniform despite high regional differences. A shift detection analysis revealed a significant step-like decrease in snow days at the end of the 1980's with no clear trend since then. This abrupt change resulted in a loss of 20% to 60% of the total snow days. The stepwise increase of the mean winter temperature at the end of the 1980's and its close correlation with the snow day anomalies corroborate the sensitivity of the mid-latitude winter to the climate change induced temperature increase.