JANUARY 2019: MASSES OF SNOW

January 2019 began with new weather extremes in Central Europe. After the long drought in 2018 a lot of people hoped there would be rain and snow. Everywhere in Middle Europe there was too little rainfall from early 2018 til November 2018. In Berlin the river Spree was flowing backwards. There were concerns about the pheatric levels. Rain or Snow was indeed urgently needed to redeem the situation. Then the snow came but in a way that it created new problems.

After January 5 it was snowing in the alpine countries. However the winter dream turned for some places into a nightmarish situation. It didn’t stopped snowing for days. Villages in Austria and Germany were isolated and couldn’t any longer reached by cars. The problem: Snow and wind turned trees into dangerous obstacles.

Felled trees were lying on rail tracks and blocked many roads. It became also a rising danger for pedestrians. In Upper Bavaria an emergency alert was issued in the well known tourist areas of Berchtesgaden and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The snow was growing and growing and became too heavy for the roofs of many buildings. Some roofs had already collapsed. The danger of avalanches was continually rising. Casualties happened because some ski-tourists didn’t listen to the warnings.  In the countryside there were countless car accidents due to bad road conditions.

Beginning with the night of January 12-13 the situation started to become more severe. There was again heavy snowfall but also the temperature began to rise. It also started to rain in lower areas. This is a big problem because it makes the snow much heavier. The danger of trees and buildings collapsing was rising and it still is.

January 13 a severe storm is announced. It stems from another low pressure system arriving from the North. There was already a storm-flood in Northern Germany. Usually the time of mid-January is often a very cold time of the year with long lasting high pressure systems.

Weather researchers are saying this could also related to the changed climate conditions in the arctic. It is somehow a mirror image of the situation in summer when high pressure systems didn’t move any longer and created the drought. Now it is a situation where low pressure systems are hitting against the alps because there is generally not much exchange in the atmosphere. There is again a weather pattern where the same weather conditions last longer as expected.

Extreme situations in the winter happened before in 2006 and 1999 when there was a terribly tragedy due to avalanches in the Austrian Alps in Galtür. Since then a lot of protection measures were put into place in the Alps.



Nevertheless winter is always a great photo-motive: Wind and snow are creating sculptures. If you look you can see also often a “blue light” in the snow. This happens due to refractions of light in the snow.

Weather services are still warning about severe conditions the coming week beginning January 14. Perhaps later there will be some sunshine and people can enjoy the beauty of a winter in the mountains.

Sunset And Foehn Effect


October 31, 2018 was a day with an unforgettable sunset in many places. On the eve of the Halloween night the sky was burning. Bright yellow and red colored clouds illuminated the sky. The extraordinary evening glow is a typical phenomenon in autumn.

In Upper Bavaria the foehn effect delivered the perfect conditions for the fire in the sky. The Northern side of the alps was very lucky since there were normal weather conditions during that evening in a year full of extremes. These extremes still continue. The foehn effect was generated by the torrential rainfall on the Southern side of the mountains. Subsequently, wet air was rising on one side and descending on the other side.

Shortly before sunset: The Sun illuminates the cloud layer


Before that Halloween evening there were also severe weather on the Northern side of the alps in Bavaria. There was an extreme windstorm which inter-cut railway connections in Upper Bavaria. Foehn windstorms can be dangerous particular on the mountain tops and some valleys.

Typical Foehn sky: a very clear view of the mountains





During the day the weather had calmed down and there were these impressing cloud patterns in the sky. The good thing was that the clouds got stopped and had not moved too much to the south. Therefore the sun appeared shortly before sunset.

These conditions happen often in autumn and also around New Year in Bavaria. This is always a good time to take pictures.

Intense orange and yellow colors in the west


The hilltops in Upper Bavaria are a good place to watch the foehn effect. The sky is very clear and there are a lot of details visible of the alpine silhuette in the South. However, days are already short and it gets pretty fast very dark.

Unlike some so-called-weather-rules the evening glow doesn’t necessarily indicate a change of weather. The next days were calm on the Northern side of the Alps.

nature as an artist: shortly after sunset


Severe weather continues in many parts of Europe. Particularly in Italy a disastrous situation due to thunderstorms and torrential rain developed. In some higher areas there was a lot of snowfall. Tourists were trapped for some time.

October 2018 was another month in Germany where the weather-anomaly continued. It is still too dry and too warm. Sunshine was above average. A new term was coined in Germany: October-Summer.

Get pictures from stormypicture.de at Adobe Stock: https://petengelmann.myportfolio.com/

The dramatic “Halloween Sky”

DYING FOREST SYNDROME IN THE HARZ MOUNTAINS

Do you remember the “Dying Forest Syndrome” in the 80ties? That was a really huge political issue in Germany and some other countries. 30 years ago there was a nearly apocalyptic fear that the forests could decline due to acid rain. 

Scientists found that air pollution had led to critical concentration of chemicals even far away from the power plants or industries which were responsible. Images of dead trees particularly from the Black Forest, the Harz Mountains and the Bavarian Forest shocked the public.

A huge change in society followed. The political debate led to the rise of the German Green party. New laws were put into place. The apocalypse didn’t happen and the German word “Waldsterben” wasn’t any longer in the news.

But matters proved to be much more tricky as expected. The forest recovered. Certainly, the measures to protect the air were helpful but later scientists found that there were huge mistakes in their assumptions.

It wasn’t always acid rain. Today we know it is a complex chain of factors which isn’t fully understood yet.

Again we see dramatic images in the Harz Mountains. These pictures were taken on a trip on the Western side near Torfhaus and the “Achtermann” peak in summer 2018. There is a fantastic trail from Torfhaus to Braunlage, a skiing centre in the winter. But during the walk, there is indeed a feeling of apocalypse. Getting closer to Braunlage the scenery reminded me of the Doomsday drama “The Road”.

Officials of the National Park say everything is okay. This time the culprit is not acid rain. The trees, which are dying were mostly penetrated by the bark beetle. The management of the Harz National Park indeed wants to replace part of the forest and let these trees die.  They want to grow a healthier forest with different kind of trees instead of the spruce monoculture.

It doesn’t need much fantasy to imagine that a big political controversy followed that kind of forest management. But there are a lot of examples that the National Park Management is on the right track. Some years ago there was a similar dispute in the Bavarian Forest. There are examples that the forest recovers even it takes many years before visitors can experience its natural beauty again. And it seems again that we don’t know exactly what’s going on.

Climate change is the new big player in the game. Unlike acid rain and the bark beetle, the outcome is much more unpredictable. The forest is suffering due to heat and drought during the summer months. The Harz Mountains receive usually a lot of rain. They are situated in the far North of Germany and the low-pressure systems coming from the Atlantic deliver rain. The climate in the Harz region is more like in Scandinavia. But that changed over the last years. 2016 was too dry and 2018 was dramatic. The heat provided perfect conditions for the bark beetle and the trees were already weakened because they didn’t get enough water. But there is more.

Over the last years, there had been devastating storms as “Sebastian” and “Friederike” adding to the damage. They felled a huge amount of trees. It is definitely the best strategy to replace the monocultures. But we can’t be sure what is happening – as it was 30 years ago. The National Park Managers do certainly their best but we are in a situation where there are global changes. We begin to live in a different world. More research should be done to develop the right answers. The dying forest syndrome is again a real threat. We don’t know if we really are in control.  We learned that some assumptions about the decline of the forest 30 years ago were in some way wrong and nevertheless there was a real threat. And it is again.  The most important thing is to stay open-minded and push stronger measures for the protection of our forests and further research forward.

Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy

THUNDERSTORMS AT DUSK

Photo Tip: Showers and Thunderstorms shortly before sunset

What is the best time to catch the most dramatic sceneries in the sky? It is, of course, the early morning light or when it is getting dark. In Europe, it is often in May or in August when there are opportunities to catch dramatic thunderstorm clouds in the late daylight. Particularly in August, the days are getting shorter and there isn’t so much dust in the air.

Taking pictures around sunset with fast moving clouds however are always a challenge. The light conditions change quickly. If possible choose raw mode since there are more opportunities to improve material later. A tripod or putting the camera in a stable position is also important. Furthermore a remote Release/timer can be a very useful tool in these situations.

A couple of lightning storms in August

Early August 2018 offered some possibilities to capture thunderstorm and shower clouds in the early evening. The strange summer with the headline provoking heatwave and the drought continued in many parts of Europe. There was still no longer lasting rain. In Bavaria, there were showers and thunderstorms happening close to the Alps as before.

Mountain Warehouse

Intense Thunderstorm Bavarian Alps, August 9, 2018

August 9 there was severe weather in Germany. The storm cell above arrived around sunset and this is the backside of the storm. There was little time left to take pictures since the daylight faded away.


Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy

A few days later huge clouds could be seen before sunset. In the west, the sun illuminated the clouds in red and yellow. This was only visible for a short time. The tops of the clouds were shining in bright yellow for some time. As the lower parts of the clouds were in shadow and appeared in dark colours there was dramatic contrast.

Since conditions how the clouds are illuminated are changing sometimes quickly it is important to act very fast. Therefore it is good to wait at a view-point which is already familiar before sunset and not wasting time with looking for the right position.

For one evening there was already an autumn air. It was a bit colder and the scenery with the low hanging dark clouds created that impression. This is not unusual in Middle Europe in Mid-August. But this year’s extreme weather conditions led to a quick return to typical hot summer weather. The drought meanwhile is causing dramatic damage. More and more researchers say that 2018 is an extreme never seen before. 

Filming clouds and thunderstorms during sunset: There is a particular challenge when doing videos. If possible shut down all automatic functions and set speed, aperture, ISO manually, since the camera will automatically adjust to changing light conditions and causing unwelcomed “jumps”(video getting suddenly brighter). Videos are a lot of try and error since no weather situation repeats itself exactly in the same way. Every shot needs different adjustments.

Thunderstorm In August After Sunset. Interesting cloud movement in the lower half of the picture.