No rest for the weary: Just hours after the extreme weather system known as Urd abated on Tuesday, state meteorologists were issuing new warnings of a full storm heading straight for Svalbard. Local officials were evaluating whether to evacuate residents and tourists on the hard-hit group of islands in the Arctic.
Norway’s meteorological institute sent out warnings of strong winds from the southwest that were expected to slam into Svalbard on Wednesday with a force of 35 meters per second. That’s not as severe as the hurricane-force winds that hit Southern Norway over the Christmas weekend, but along with the winds come a high risk of avalanches.
Officials don’t want to underestimate the risks, especially after a deadly avalanche in Svalbard’s main population center of Longyearbyen last year. It killed two people trapped inside a house that was one of several to be destroyed by the snow- and landslide.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the top local official on Svalbard, known as sysselmannen, was continuously evaluating the current need for evacuation. It would come just over a month after unusually warm temperatures and heavy rains forced evacuations in Longyearbyen, also because of threatened landslides.
The state agency monitoring the risk of landslides and avalanches, NVE, reported high danger in eastern, western and southern portions of Svalbard. They based their evaluation on the strong winds combined with a snowstorm predicted for Wednesday evening.
“We’re expecting extremely strong winds and snow drifts that will pile up on the lee of mountain slopes,” warned NVE via its avalanche warning system varsom.no. The agency warned that it would be “natural” for the built-up snow to suddenly be set loose, NVE wrote. People were urged to avoid any areas under or alongside the slopes.
“We have a good avalanche warning system in place and it has routines that we’re now following,” said Kjerstin Askholt, sysselmann on Svalbard. “Based on that and the professional advice of NVE, we’ll constantly evaluating the situation.”