Although Switzerland only covers an area of 41,285 km², there are more different climatic conditions than almost any other country in Europe. The reason for the varied climate in Switzerland lies in the diverse topographical conditions and varied natural structures. This means that the weather in Switzerland can be completely different in different regions on the same day. The mountain ranges of the Alps form a powerful climate and weather divide with further inner-Alpine weather effects. While the southern side of the Alps, with the Canton of Ticino (except the regions in the Gotthard massif), the Grisons valleys, the Münstertal and the upper part of the Val Divredo in the Canton of Valais, has a warm Mediterranean climate and vegetation, the other cantons on the northern side of the Alps have a continental temperate climate.
The temperatures in Switzerland also vary depending on altitude and where you are. It is therefore worth checking the weather forecasts for each region and the live webcams in Switzerland every day. Current sources for the weather in Switzerland are MeteoSchweiz (the Federal Office for Meteorology and Climatology), SRF Meteo (the weather service of Swiss radio and television), MeteoNews (a private weather service based in Zurich) and Meteomedia (a weather service company founded by Swiss presenter and journalist Jörg Kachelmann).
Where in Switzerland does it rain most often and where are the sunniest places?
The place with the highest precipitation in Switzerland is the 2,502-metre-high Säntis, which forms the border with the cantons of Appenzell-Ausserrhoden, Appenzell-Innerrhoden and St. Gallen. An average of 2,837 millilitres of rainfall per year falls here in the Appenzell Alps – in winter mostly in the form of snow, so it’s no wonder that the Säntis, at 816 centimetres in 1999, also had the thickest snow cover in Switzerland to date. Nevertheless, the Säntis is not the coldest place in Switzerland, but rather the Jungfraujoch, where temperatures in winter average -7.2 °C. In the regions of Geneva, Basel and southern Ticino, on the other hand, it hardly ever snows. The driest place in Switzerland is the Vispertal, a side valley of the Rhone Valley, which receives an average of only 545 millilitres of rain per year. In general, the inner-alpine valleys lie in the rain shadow of the Alps and have the fewest annual rainy days. Among the warmest places and sunniest spots in Switzerland are Lugano and Locarno-Monti in the canton of Ticino, with an average annual temperature of 12.4 °C and around 2,181 hours of sunshine a year. In general, the Canton of Ticino in southern Switzerland with Lake Maggiore is the sunniest area in Switzerland. In summer, peaks of up to 39 °C can occur in Ticino. Although the Engadine Valley is geographically part of southern Switzerland, the climate in Switzerland is usually almost 10 °C colder than in Lugano and Locarno-Monti. This is due to the altitude of the valley, which at 1,800 metres is one of the highest populated valleys in Europe.
Generally speaking, temperatures in Switzerland are mildest throughout the year in the Basel region, the Rhone valley and the Rhine valley. In the Swiss cities of Zurich, Basel, Lucerne and Berne, 27°C in summer is already one of the highest values and in winter temperatures hardly ever fall below zero degrees. Fog is also part of the weather in Switzerland and varies from region to region. Especially along the Aare, on the northern Reuss and in Thurgau, fog is not uncommon in autumn, winter and early spring. However, the frequency of fog has decreased significantly in recent years due to climate changes. If you really want to experience a white Christmas in Switzerland with a dreamlike snowy splendour, you are of course in the right place in the Swiss Alps and the Swiss Jura mountains. You have the choice between countless ski resorts in Switzerland, which are among the best in the world, and every year they also score points with guaranteed snow. At lower altitudes and in the Swiss midlands, on the other hand, snow has become rather rare at Christmas.
Be careful in the mountains!
The weather in Switzerland can change in the mountains within minutes. It is therefore advisable to always be equipped for bad weather and to go to a mountain station or mountain hut immediately if a thunderstorm threatens. In recent years, climate change has shown in all the mountain regions of Europe that weather in the long term is becoming increasingly difficult to calculate. In particular, the weather in Switzerland in winter is extremely changeable in the mountains. Cold and warm phases alternate almost daily, the same applies to rain, snow and sun. Even extreme summer heat periods are no longer a rarity in the Swiss mountains. In general, you should always use a sunscreen when planning a trip to the mountains, both in summer and in winter, as the sun at high altitudes should not be underestimated. Many times, the hikers and climbers run the risk that despite of the predicted bad weather, they absolutely want to accomplish their planned tours in the Swiss mountains, as after all, the holiday time is short and who knows when one gets the opportunity to conquer the mighty Jungfraujoch, the majestic Matterhorn or the Alps of Bern. This is the reason why sudden changes of the weather in the mountains repeatedely lead to deaths.
You should also refrain from activities such as canyoning and paragliding if bad weather threatens or stop them immediately. The same applies if a thunderstorm comes up over a Swiss lake: Leave the water immediately, because it is known to attract lightning. Mountain rescuers in Switzerland can probably tell you a thing or two about what happens when passionate alpinists absolutely want to go into the mountains even in miserable weather. And this despite the fact that even in bad weather, there are plenty of opportunities for activities away from the mountains in Switzerland. So you should definitely refrain from a mountain tour, even if thunderstorms are only “in between”. In the mountains, you are much closer to the storms than in the valley, and it is not so rare that mountaineers are even struck by lightning. A reliable aid to finding out about the current weather conditions in the Swiss Alps are the live webcams that have been installed in all mountain regions of Switzerland and should definitely be consulted before a mountain tour. In winter, it is also absolutely essential that you follow the signs and warnings in the Swiss ski resorts to avoid life-threatening avalanches and falls in unprepared terrain or in crevasses.
Eisheilige, Indian summer and other characteristics of Swiss weather
As in every country in the world, Switzerland’s climate is characterised by traditional natural phenomena that occur every year. One example is the so-called Eisheiligen or icemen. These are frosts in spring, which have been handed down in centuries-old farmers’ calendars and which fall on the saints’ commemoration days between 11 and 15 May. Among them are Mamertus, Pankratius, Servatius, Bonifatius and Sophia (the cold Sophie). After these days, the weather in Switzerland will be stable and farmers will be able to sow their seeds without fear of ground frost. More or less regularly, in June, a considerable drop in temperature is measured, which has come to be known as sheep’s cold. In Switzerland, these cold spells often bring snow to below the mountain passes.
Almost every year, the popular Swiss ski resort of Arosa in the canton of Graubünden, which lies at an altitude of 1,700 metres, reports fresh snow in June. The recurring period of fine weather in Switzerland in autumn is known as Indian summer. In the mountainous high altitudes you can best experience the mild temperatures in Switzerland of Indian summer, which can last until October and offer ideal conditions for hiking, climbing and paragliding. In Davos, also in Canton Graubünden, there are already centuries-old records of this weather phenomenon in Switzerland. There, the annual sunshine duration reaches 80% during the period of Indian summer. On both sides of the main ridge of the Alps, mild Fön winds regularly occur from spring to autumn, and in winter it is the cold, dry biswinds from which the southern side of the Alps is usually spared. These mild down winds are most pronounced in the north-south oriented valleys, such as the Rhine Valley and the Rhone Valley.
When is the best time to travel to Switzerland?
The best time to travel to Switzerland depends on what activities you have planned in Switzerland. The weather in Switzerland from the beginning of June to the end of August offers ideal conditions for extensive swimming and various water sports activities on the Swiss lakes. In the Lucerne-Lake Lucerne holiday region, the climate in summer is similar to that of Canton Ticino, thanks to the protection of the surrounding mountains, so even Mediterranean plants such as cypresses, figs and palm trees grow here. Daytime temperatures can sometimes climb to 30 °C. At other Swiss lakes, such as Lake Neuchâtel at the southern foot of the Jura mountains, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz in the Bernese Oberland holiday region, and Lake Geneva on the western border between Switzerland and France, July is one of the hottest months with average temperatures of 26 °C. But the summery weather in Switzerland is also suitable for an outdoor activity holiday away from the Swiss lakes if you are looking for the mountainous altitudes.
For every 100 meters of altitude difference the temperature drops by 0.50 to 0.65 °C. However, the most popular months for hiking in Switzerland are still spring and autumn, i.e. April/May and September/October. In spring, the meadows and forests shine in fresh, lush green, while autumn brings a colourful array of colours to the landscape and the harvest is brought in. An eventful cultural holiday in Switzerland is possible all year round, as the temperatures in Switzerland do not get unbearably hot even in the Swiss cities in summer and there is usually a lake, bathing ponds or swimming pool nearby. For skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and sledging, the weather in Switzerland in winter naturally ensures the best time to travel in Switzerland. However, there are also year-round ski resorts in Switzerland for those winter sports fans who cannot wait until the next winter. These include the Zermatt-Matterhorn Glacier Paradise at a height of 3.800 metres, which is open 365 days a year, and the ski area Saas-Fee with a huge freestyle park at a height of 3.600 metres.
Live webcams in Switzerland
To keep you informed about the current weather in Switzerland, the live webcams of the weather stations installed in all parts of the country are a great help. In total there are more than 3,600 live webcams in Switzerland, but only about 1,800 of these are active all year round. Whether in Swiss cities such as Zurich, Lucerne, Bern and Basel, on Swiss lakes such as Lake Geneva, Lake Brienz and Lake Lucerne, or at popular excursion destinations such as Zurich Zoo, Phantasieland Brühl or the Schwägalp-Säntis nature and adventure park – almost every location can be visited directly by one or even several live webcams in Switzerland. Would you like to know whether the Jungfraujoch has a clear view? Or are you planning an excursion to Bettmeralp and don’t know whether you’ll need your rain gear? Is the sun shining at Grindewald right now? Simply contact the live webcam of your preferred excursion destination online, which you can access via various links, such as https://www.swisswebcams.ch/ and https://wetteralarm.ch/webcam/schweiz/, and find out about the current Swiss weather.