Switzerland is looking for the largest hailstone

Sommerzeit ist Hagelzeit. Hagelzüge richten in der Schweiz Jahr für Jahr Schäden
Sommerzeit ist Hagelzeit. Hagelzüge richten in der Schweiz Jahr für Jahr Schäden in Millionenhöhe an. Nach dem Hochwasser verursacht Hagel die grössten Verluste. © Mobiliar

On the occasion of its 10th anniversary, the Mobiliar Lab for Natural Risks at the University of Bern is holding a competition on hail, looking for photos of large hailstones. The Mobiliar Lab works at the interface of science and practice and researches how hail, floods and storms occur, how damage can be reduced and develops tools for better management of natural risks.

Making basic research accessible to practice: The Mobiliar Lab for Natural Risks was founded in 2013 as a joint research initiative of the Oeschger Center for Climate Research at the University of Bern and Mobiliar. ’Ten years later, the Mobiliar Lab has put its intentions into practice,’ sums up Olivia Romppainen, professor of climate impact research and co-director of the Lab. ’We have become a valued partner in the field of natural hazards to the public sector, but also to planning and engineering firms.’

Competition and information platform

One of the research focuses of Mobiliar Labs is hail. It causes millions of dollars of damage in Switzerland every year, is difficult to predict, and is still comparatively poorly researched. One of the reasons for this is the lack of measurement and observation data, since hail occurs in strong thunderstorms that are limited in time and occur on a very small scale. Against this background, Mobiliar Lab has developed a hail reporting function integrated into the MeteoSwiss app. So far, more than 270,000 reports of local hailstorms have been received. With the help of this data, new radar-based tools for more precise hail forecasting are being developed and existing forecasting tools are being continuously improved.

To mark its 10th anniversary, Mobiliar Lab is launching a new information platform on the subject of hail ( www.hagelforschung.ch ) and is launching it with the competition ’Switzerland is looking for the largest hailstone’. It runs from the beginning of June to the end of August and aims to encourage the population to photograph hailstones as large as possible, to upload these pictures to www.hagelforschung.ch and to inform themselves on this website, among other things, about the correct behavior in the event of hail.

Natural risks increase with climate change

The Mobiliar Lab is aiming for ’results with a high benefit for the general public,’ says Olivia Romppainen. Processes involved in the development of hail, floods and storms are being investigated. The focus is also on the damage resulting from these natural events and measures to keep them as small as possible. In around 30 so-called

implementation projects, Mobiliar Lab has taken findings from research and translated them into practice in close collaboration with users. As a result of climate change, natural risks are generally increasing," explains Andreas Zischg, professor of human-environment systems modeling at the University of Bern and co-leader of the Mobiliar Lab. ’Heavy precipitation, for example, is becoming more frequent and intense, and this increases the risk of flooding. We are now investigating which rivers will react to this, and how sensitively.’

Tools for better handling of natural risks

In one of its implementation projects, Mobiliar Lab investigated the extent of the risk potential posed by floods in Switzerland. The result: 300,000 buildings with a total value of 500 billion Swiss francs are located in a flood hazard area, inhabited by around 1.1 million people ( www.schadenpotenzial.ch ). In addition, a new modeling tool ( www.hochwasserdynamik.ch ) was developed at the Lab to help prepare for the management of major floods - among other things, it facilitates supraregional emergency planning.

Another development of the Lab concerns surface runoff - this refers to rainwater that does not seep into the ground quickly enough and can therefore cause major damage. Together with partners from the field, a structured decision-making aid for dealing with this natural hazard, which is still little known to the public, was developed that can also be understood by laypersons.