Winter rain

20130129-191909.jpgAs I’ve mentioned before, Vienna in winter is not the snow-covered city that most people seem to imagine.  I, too, was surprised to learn how little snow typically falls here, and how close, climatically, in many ways Vienna is to my home in the US mid-Atlantic.  It averages a little bit colder here (about 5 Fahrenheit degrees lower high temperatures during the winter, on average) so we certainly get plenty of cold weather here — especially when coupled with the often intense wind.  However, it’s a lot drier here — we get significantly less precipitation here, throughout the year, than the DC area weather I’m used to.  But, since it’s colder, when we get precipitation in the winter months, it’s usually snow, and when we do get snow, it tends to stick around.

20130129-191919.jpgWe had a pretty significant snowstorm here about 12 days ago (just as we were leaving Vienna to go skiing).  We’d been getting little bits of snow, almost daily, for a few weeks leading up to the big snow, and we’ve gotten a little bit of snow several times since then.  And nearly all of it has stuck around, since only one day in the past 2 weeks has had a high temperature above freezing (and then, it was only above freezing for about an hour).  Over the past few weeks, we’ve gotten pretty used to the scene of Vienna alternating between fresh whiteness and the less lovely gray/beige of days-old snow that has been sanded, gravelled, and walked in by many feet.

Back at home, the weather often feels like it can’t pick a season.  It’s perfectly expected that a heavy snow or ice storm may be followed, within days (if not hours) by springtime temperatures and sunshine.  But not in Vienna.  We’re just a little colder, and a little drier, but typically, winter stays winter until it’s time for spring.  So today, when the rain started falling, it was very strange.  Just as the temperatures came up above freezing for the first time in a while, the rain started to fall.  It looked, sounded and felt really foreign.  Just the sight of it on the windows was odd, and the splashing in the gutters and on the roof felt like a completely alien sound.

It’s just another one of those little differences that you don’t notice until it happens and then it feels so very strange.  I’ve acclimated to winter in Vienna, I suppose, and my brain wasn’t expecting rain.


People have an image of wintry Vienna that isn’t quite accurate.  I think because Austria is such a mountainous country, and maybe also because Vienna is at such a northern latitude, the popular image of Vienna in the winter includes a lot of snow.

In reality, Vienna averages less snow per year than my previous home in the Washington, DC area.  (Vienna is colder, on average, than DC, but we just don’t get nearly as much precipitation at any part of the year.)

011When we do get snow in Vienna, though, they know how to handle it (although they think they don’t — they say they handle it horribly).  Nothing closes.  The trains and buses still run on time (or pretty close — better than a normal day on Metro).  The roads get sanded, gravelled and plowed.  The sidewalks get gravelled and shoveled. Life goes on, pretty much as usual.

And then, the temperatures come up a bit, everything turns into a wet, yucky mess and the snow that has piled up on the roofs starts to melt and slide off.  The sloped roofs, combined with very narrow streets and sidewalks, leads to a pretty stressful situation if you’re walking, biking or driving around.

003There are these helpful little signs that spring up all over the city, which say “Dachlawine” (roof avalanche).  They’re stuck to red poles that stick out at an angle from the wall and they’re set so as to discourage anyone from walking immediately beneath the overhang of the building. That way, when the inevitable happens and the snow slides off, it’s less likely that there’s anyone walking underneath.

In the past week, a lot of snow fell in Vienna (the most in nearly 20 years) and today was the first day with temperatures staying long above freezing, so the avalanches have been falling.  Sitting here, in my top floor apartment, I occasionally hear the “fumph” of a section of snow sliding off the roof.  And earlier, when I was out, walking around, I was distracted by constantly stealing glances up at the roof edges to see what was waiting to fall.

It’s kind of stressful to be constantly wary roof avalanches as you’re out and about after a snowfall.  Just another part of winter in Vienna, though.  (I’m at least grateful that they have the signs.)