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Christian Rickli

Forschungsanstalt WSL

Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
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Michael Bründl

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Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
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Article

Author(s): Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Federal Office for the Environment FOEN
Editorial office: WSL, Switzerland
Comments: Article has 0 comments
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The Hurricane Lothar 1999: finding a Balance

Devastated forest slopes, blocked roads and railway tracks, destroyed real estate and numerous casualties: On 26 December 1999, the hurricane Lothar left a trail of devastation on its way through Switzerland. An event analysis is providing a balance.

Windwurffläche in Habsburg AG
Fig. 1 - Devasted forest area near Habsburg AG
Photo: Thomas Reich (WSL)
 
Buchdeckel
Book cover of the event analysis
 

As a consequence of this hurricane, 14 people lost their lives and an additional 15 during the cleanup efforts in the forests. The damage to the forests amounted to over 12.7 million m3 of timber, which corresponds to three times the annual volume of felled timber stock. The total amount of damage to forests is estimated at CHF 760 million, with the private forest owner being hit the hardest. In addition, approximately CHF 730 million in costs is counted toward damage to buildings and movable property.

The total amount of damage caused by the hurricane Lothar is quantifiable at CHF 1,780 million, caused during only two hours on the morning of the Boxing Day of 1999. The impact of Lothar is expected to have long-term consequences for forests, the economy and society, since Lothar can trigger consequential damage such as an explosion of bark beetle reproduction, land slides or further windfalls of which the extent can not be currently estimated.

The alarming balance is based on the extensive report about the hurricane Lothar. This report not only documents the meteorological extremes of the hurricane and the damage, but also analyses the wide range of measures taken by the owners, authorities and actors to reduce the extent of the damage and to cope with the event.

Fundamentally, the response to the hurricane shows that Swiss society and its economy are perfectly capable of coping with such an extraordinary event. Flexibility and the high level of technical competence on the part of the persons and authorities involved in all areas was a decisive factor in the professional management of the crisis. Despite this positive overall assessment a number of areas, such as informing the local population, the communication between the various special services and the crisis team, as well as the meteorological forecast system, proved to be critical crisis management factors which need to be improved upon in terms of organization, planning and deployment. In addition, the information and communication among those affected can be improved as well. Such extreme weather conditions can not be prevented but improved measures may reduce the magnitude of such events.

This report is a joint product from researchers, administration, and from those personally affected. It is the basis for the long-term management and analysis for the overall result. The report is also a basis to demonstrate the chances for newer and younger technologies and processes to be applied which were brought along despite all the destruction by the hurricane Lothar. It not only addresses all the authorities which have been involved in the crisis including experts and politicians, but also the interested general public and those affected personally.

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