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The Ice Saints of Switzerland

We have a saying that goes 'April, April, macht was er will' which basically means 'April, April, does how he pleases'. This popular saying pretty much summarizes the sudden changes in weather conditions in Switzerland that can take place in April.

Indeed, April has had its moods also this year. It's the Easter weekend and most everyone hoped for good weather. These hopes were not unjustified since this spring has been amazingly sunny with record hours of sunshine in March. However, the Easter weekend had its own mind. Instead of sun and warmth we got rain, fog, clouds and SNOW.

Snow covered rose - Sabine Ullmann  /

The Ice Saints

As a rule of thumb snow and frost in most parts of Switzerland are possible till the end of April or beginning of May. The so-called Ice Saints or Frost Saints ('Eisheiligen' in German) are five saints days in the middle of May that - according to popular belief and tradition - have an increased likelihood of nightly frosts falling.

Several weather proverbs state that the weather is getting reliably mild only after the Ice Saints, especially 'Cold Sophie' on May 15th, have passed. The five Ice Saints are the following:
  1. Mamertus, May 11th
  2. Pancras, May 12th
  3. Servatius, May 13th
  4. Boniface, May 14th
  5. Sophie, May 15th

No Evidence for Accuracy

However, there is no climatological evidence that supports the belief in the Ice Saints. Nevertheless, I believe there is some truth in them just like in many popular beliefs. Years of experience might have led Swiss farmers to create this rule of thumb and many Swiss weather prophets include this rule in their predictions of the season's weather.

Whatever the origin, the Ice Saints are deeply rooted in Swiss culture and that snow is possible even up to the end of April has been proven today. Obviously, in the alpine regions snow falls are possible even during the summer, so the rule doesn't apply there. 

Snow covered flower - Hans Snoek  /
Source: Wikipedia on Ice Saints



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