Christmas storm disrupted holidays

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UPDATED: Traveling home for Christmas was no easy task anywhere in Norway this year, after another major storm swept over most of the country and closed roads, delayed or cancelled trains and ferries and also upset many holiday traditions. State meteorologists warned that the weather would get even worse on Christmas Eve, and it did.

Highway crews were having trouble keeping roads over the mountains open on Christmas Eve, like here on the E134 highway over Haukelifjell, west of the Røldal tunnel. PHOTO: Statens vegvesen webcamera

Highway crews were having trouble keeping roads over the mountains open on Christmas Eve, like here on the E134 highway over Haukelifjell, west of the Røldal tunnel. PHOTO: Statens vegvesen webcamera

Hurricane-force winds bore down on the county of Sogn og Fjordane, for example, causing lots of damage and prompting police to urge residents against going outdoors. The Nordfjord turned into a choppy sea with high waves, while strong winds ripped the roof off buildings and overturned parked camping vans.

There was also little hope that the weather would improve much during the rest of the romjul holidays, the important period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve that’s often devoted to more family gatherings, parties and ski trips. With heavy rain washing away any snow at lower elevations, the prospects for the latter were dim at best.

As were traditional outdoor skating, sledding or horse-drawn sleigh rides, given the unusual lack of snow or ice in most areas apart from the mountains. Prime Minister Erna Solberg managed to get in some skating while home in Bergen for the holidays, but only on an ice rink that doesn’t rely on naturally freezing temperatures.

Even the Christmas Eve tradition of placing wreaths and lighting candles and torches on the graves of departed relatives and friends was at risk this year, with the strong winds and rain blowing out many of the flickering lights that otherwise make Norwegian cemeteries a special sight during the darkest time of the year. The often long walks to gravesites also proved to be very wet affairs.

Thousands frustrated
The prospect of simply not making it home or away for the holidays frustrated thousands, as several key highways over the mountains of southern Norway remained closed as did many in northern Norway as well. Some reopened on Tuesday, only to close again later, and motorists attempting to drive over the mountains were urged to have warm clothing, food and warm drinks inside the car, not in the trunk, in case they got stuck or had to wait for a convoy formation.

State railway NSB had trouble with fallen trees and power failures around the Oslo area and at Skien, farther south. Most flights from Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, however, were running on time although there were some delays.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Fjord Line cancelled its Christmas cruise from Bergen and Stavanger to Denmark. The seas were simply too rough and when the vessel couldn’t tie up in Bergen, passengers were sent by bus to Stavanger. When they finally arrived, though, they were told the entire cruise had to be cancelled, and that they would need to head back to Bergen.

“Christmas is ruined,” passenger Inge Larsen told ba.no, the website for newspaper Bergensavisen. “We hadn’t prepared for having Christmas in Bergen.” By the time they got back, most stores had closed for the Christmas holidays.

Hundreds without power
Warnings also continued that many communities around Norway would experience power failures, and many already were, with 1,800 households without electricity in Romerike and Vestby, outside Oslo, on Tuesday afternoon. Local officials had urged households to prepare early for the traditional juleribbe (pork ribs), pinnekjøtt (dried lamb ribs) and other Christmas meals that require long roasting or cooking time.

“We can’t guarantee that there will be electricity to run the stoves,” admitted Ruhne Nilssen of utility firm Skagerak Energi. He stressed, though, that both his firm and other utilities around Norway had greatly boosted preparedness in order to repair any damaged power lines as quickly as possible.

“We’re doing what we can so that any power failures won’t ruin Christmas Eve for folks,” Nilssen told NRK. One woman in Årsnes, east of Oslo, said her family was getting out a gas grill to save Christmas Eve dinner.

Meanwhile, the near-hurricane force winds were expected to peak Tuesday afternoon in southern Norway but not until during the night in northern Norway, where coastal areas were especially at risk. Police were advising residents to stay indoors when the storm was raging, especially along the West Coast and in Trøndelag and Møre og Romsdal, because of the danger of flying objects.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund