Austria is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. Most of the west, centre, and south of the country is made up of the eastern Alps, which extend uninterrupted from Switzerland and Italy. In Austria the higher peaks rise to over 3,700 m/12,000 ft and are snow-covered throughout the year. The Alps are dissected by deep valleys, however, so that very different climatic and weather conditions occur over quite short distances. The most extensive lowland in Austria is found in the north and east along the Danube valley from Linz to Vienna and east of Vienna, where the land becomes almost flat along the Hungarian border. The southeast of the country lies south of the main Alpine ranges and here in the lower valleys and around the lakes the summers may, at times, experience almost Mediterranean warmth and dryness.
The sequence of weather around the year varies little from one part of the country to another. The weather can be changeable at all times of the year. Everywhere the summer months are the wettest but summer rainfall is more likely to be heavy and thundery and therefore of shorter duration. Winters are rather cold everywhere and during prolonged cold spells temperatures may be lowest in the valleys and lowlands. The coldest conditions in winter usually occur with east-to-northeast winds bringing very low temperatures from eastern Europe and Russia. The character of summer or winter may differ from year to year. On average, sunshine amounts are greater than in northwest Europe but lower than in Mediterranean countries. They range from nine to ten hours a day in July to between two to three in January.
Austria can be divided into three broad climatic regions: the Alps, the Danube valley and the Vienna basin, and the southeast including Styria and Carinthia.
Including (with towns and cities in parentheses) Tirol (Innsbruck), Salzburg (Salzburg).
In winter the higher Alpine winter-sports resorts are much sunnier than the valleys where conditions are often cloudy and foggy with low temperatures persisting for several days. Although temperatures may be lower on the mountains it may feel warmer in calm and sunny conditions. The reverse is the case in summer when the mountains may become cloudy during the hotter part of the day while the valleys stay sunny.
Certain Alpine valleys, particularly those running from south to north, experience a very warm, dry wind - the föhn. This may blow from twenty to forty days a year. The föhn is most frequent in autumn and spring, when it can melt snow with prodigious speed. It is then dangerous for it can trigger avalanches on the mountain slopes. The air may become so dry during the föhn that there is a serious fire risk to wooden buildings. The source of the warm air is to the south of the Alps, but it is warmed and dried as it crosses the mountains and descends on the northern side. For details of climate and weather in this area see the table for Innsbruck.
The Danube Valley and the Vienna Basin
Including (with towns and cities in parentheses) Vienna (Vienna), Upper Austria (Linz).
This is the driest part of the country. Winter snowfall is rarely deep but snow may last for some weeks during cold winters. In general, conditions here are very similar to those in southern Germany throughout the year (see the table for Vienna).
The Southeast (Styria and Carinthia)
Styria (Graz), Carinthia (Klagenfurt),
In some of the sheltered valleys in this part of Austria the summers are notably warmer and sunnier than north of the Alps. During settled weather the almost uninterrupted sunshine appears to bring a touch of the Mediterranean to the area, but heavy thunderstorms and more unsettled weather are rarely absent for long. Although spring may be a little earlier here, the winters can be as cold and severe as farther north (see the table for Klagenfurt).
© Copyright RM, 2007. All rights reserved. Helicon Publishing is a division of RM.