Extreme winter weather brings fatal avalanches and cuts off Alpine ski resorts

Search and rescue workers dig out a bus caught by an avalanche in Hundwil, Switzerland.

(CNN)At least 16 people have died in avalanche-related accidents in Europe since the start of the year, as severe winter weather grips parts of the continent.

Three German skiers were killed and another is still missing, after they were buried in an avalanche near the Austrian ski resort of Lech am Arlberg over the weekend, a press officer for the western province of Vorarlberg told CNN.
Meanwhile, in the French Alps, two ski patrollers were killed Sunday after devices they were using to trigger avalanches exploded, the Haute-Savoie region's high mountain gendarmerie said.
    The severe weather has been fueled by a persistent area of low pressure, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
      A snow blower attempts to clear a path in Lofer, Austria.
      That has been felt in heavy snow along the northern Alps, and as far south as the mountainous areas of northern and central Spain, as well as in Greece, where thermometers registered an all-time low of -23 degrees Celsius (-9 Fahrenheit) last week.
      The northern-facing slopes of the Alps in Germany and Austria, which have been battered by repeated rounds of storms, have seen upward of 10 feet in some spots.
      A top-level red alert for extreme winter conditions was in effect on Monday for parts of southern Germany and Switzerland, as well as in Austria, where snow has made some motorways impassable, halted trains and paralyzed public life.
      An estimated 13,000 people were stranded in the Swiss Alpine resort of Zermatt last week after heavy snow and power cuts shuttered ski lifts and mountain paths, Reuters reported.
      "There are locations, mainly in Austria and southern Bavaria, where we haven't seen this level of snowfall ever before, or at least not to that extreme," Florian Pappenberger, the director of forecasts at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, said. "It is unusual, you don't get very often people chipping the tops of their houses free of snow."
      In the first week of the month alone, many parts of Austria have already seen their entire January snow average reached, according to the Austrian meteorological service.