Even immediately before moving here, my mental image of Switzerland was populated largely by snowcapped mountains and cozy chalets tucked among snow drifts. However, I’ve been really surprised to find that at least in Zurich, winters are some of the mildest I’ve ever experienced. No shoveling or snow pileup, temperatures entirely manageable, the Alps within a short train ride for a visit to Real Winter.
The summers turned out to be the real surprise. So many days of golden sunlight and swimming and subtropical lounging! However, it gets HOT. Like hot hot. Like I’m hotter than I’ve ever been before in my life because the Swiss do not believe in air conditioning for environmental and other reasons.
A note about this- I’ve been told that air conditioning is essentially illegal in Switzerland. You have to apply for a special permit to have it, and I don’t know of any offices that have it and no one I know has an apartment with air conditioning. Some grocery stores do, but it’s more of a gentle breeze by the fish than the arctic blast that I’m used to. Largely, I think this is pretty cool. It drives most of the population to one of the infinite lakes/rivers/alpen refuges that this country is so lucky to have, and avoids the terrible cost to the environment that aircon represents. However, this whole system is really based around only a couple days of really hot temperatures per year.
This is changing fast in Switzerland in the last few years. Temperatures have been above 30 degrees c/86 degrees Fahrenheit every day for the past week, even reaching 35c/96f. Picture sitting in those temperatures in an office building packed with people and computers all day. You can mess with the blinds and leaving the lights off and having a fan going, but at some point there’s just no combating such a temperature. But there’s just no relief except for swimming- even restaurants don’t have AC!
The worst is at night though- the only tactic is to take a cold shower immediately before bed and hope you can fall asleep before you start sweating again. Last night was officially the hottest night on record in Switzerland (https://www.thelocal.ch/20170623/parts-of-switzerland-experience-hottest-night-ever) at 25c/77f. A nighttime temperature of above 20c is considered a “tropical night.”
I think Switzerland is an interesting case because it is a country that is changing fast that just literally doesn’t have the infrastructure to support a hotter climate, from public transit to office space. Beyond just being uncomfortable, heat waves are one of the most deadly natural events- the rates of deaths from many causes have a prolonged spike after a stretch of hot days. I’m curious to see how Switzerland and also less affluent countries will handle this change in climate (see recent NYTimes article for a breakdown of where we are headed: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/22/climate/95-degree-day-maps.html)
The flip side of this- warmer winters- has also been a problem in a country known for its skiing. I don’t recommend coming to the Alps before late January for a ski holiday, based on the last few winters, and if you want to see some of the amazing glaciers it’s better not to put your trip off too long.
For now, I’ll enjoy one more day of sweating into my computer chair and prolonged swims before some summer storms move in.