Snow-covered forest. Credit: pxhere

Heavy snowfall, floods and high winds in Europe

4 January 2017 00:00 UTC–9 January 08:00 UTC

Snow-covered forest. Credit: pxhere
Snow-covered forest. Credit: pxhere

In early January 2017 two winter storms brought extreme weather to many parts of Europe.

Last Updated

06 October 2023

Published on

03 January 2017

By Djordje Gencic (RHMSS) and Jochen Kerkmann (EUMETSAT) and Ivan Smiljanic (SCISYS)

In the first week of 2017 a cyclonic weather system, named Storm Axel, caused the worst Baltic Sea flooding in a decade. By late evening on 4 January, many locations along the Baltic Sea had water levels of 150–170cm higher than usual. On 5 January the system continued its movement through Balkans and further towards Eastern Europe.

In the aftermath of Storm Axel central and parts of Western Europe had cold weather, with mostly clear skies, which revealed the snow covered areas, as seen on Meteosat-10 Snow RGB, 6 January 10:00 UTC (Figure 1). In Poland at least 10 people have died in the cold temperatures.

 Meteosat-10 Snow RGB, 6 January 10:00 UTC
Figure 1: Meteosat-10 Snow RGB, 6 January 10:00 UTC
 Terra, 07 January, 09:45 UTC
Figure 2: Terra MODIS RGB at 500m resolution, 07 January, 09:45 UTC. Credit: NASA
 Aqua, 06 January, 12:20 UTC
Figure 3: Aqua MODIS RGB, at 500m resolution, 06 January, 12:20 UTC. Credit: NASA

On the back end of this cyclone, very cold air was pulled from the far northeast of Europe. Many parts of the Balkans experienced heavy snowfall and high winds. Even some low-lying coastal areas of Southern Adriatic had snowfall, including Dubrovnik in Croatia and Bar in Montenegro (Figure 2), accompanied with very strong Bora winds, with gusts up to 216km/h.

At the same time, the protrusion of very cold air over the relatively warm surface of Adriatic Sea caused the formation of 'sea-effect snow'; cloud bands, heavily affecting the eastern coast of mainland Italy. These cloud bands were also present in the Tyrrhenian Sea, causing severe snowfall in Sicily (Figure 3).

Figure 4: Meteosat-10 Airmass animation, 4 January 00:00 UTC–9 January 08:00 UTC

The hourly Airmass RGB animation from Meteosat-10 (Figure 4) shows the development of Axel and subsequent Mediterranean storms from 4 January 00:00 UTC to 9 January 08:00 UTC. A number of weather events can be seen.

  1. Storm Axel that caused the high winds in Germany and coastal floods in Baltic Sea.
  2. The new cyclone that formed over northern Italy (downstream development south of the Alps).
  3. Large cloud streets over the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Sea which caused 'sea-effect snow'.

Later in the period the cyclonic storm moved further south-eastwards, bringing another series of severe weather.

On 6–8 January Greece, including the Greek islands such as Crete, had heavy snowfalls. On 7–9 January the cyclone hit Turkey, again bringing heavy snowfalls. Both events can be seen on the later frames of the animation.

Other features in the Airmass RGB include:

  • High level mountain wave clouds over some areas, including the Carpathian mountains.
  • A deformation zone over Belarus, Poland and Slovakia on 8 January.
  • Very cold land surfaces (green colour) in the cloud-free view.
  • Retrograde movement of upper PV anomaly on 8–9 January from Ukraine, over Romania towards Serbia.

Additional content

Storm Axel brings worst Baltic Sea flooding in decade (The Local)
Heavy snow, icy weather grip Italy, Greece and Turkey (Yahoo News)
In Pictures: Snow hits Europe (BBC News)