Few prepared for extreme weather

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As scores of households woke up to flooded cellars on Thursday following more heavy rain during the night, both the Norwegian Red Cross and state officials were warning that Norway is poorly prepared to deal with the consequences of extreme weather. Only three out of 10 municipalities have established routines for dealing with floods, earthslides and other natural disasters.

Flooding hit Trysil, a popular ski resort in the winter, over the weekend, with the flood marker at left showing rising water levels. At right, Trysil Mountain emerging from the clouds. PHOTO: Kari Hagevik Bakke / NTB Scanpix

Flooding like that which hit the eastern community of Trysil recently is expected to become more common, as “extreme” weather becomes far more common. PHOTO: Kari Hagevik Bakke / NTB Scanpix

“I’m worried that in the worst cases, this threatens human life and health,” Åsne Havnelid, secretary general of the Norwegian Red Cross, told newspaper Aftenposten.

The Red Cross teamed up with the state Meteorological Institute and the state agency in charge of Norway’s waterways NVE (Norges vassdrags- og energidirektorat) to prepare a report on Norwegian preparedness for the extreme weather that’s linked to climate change. The report, released on Thursday, found that preparedness was far from optimal: Only half of all local governments conduct regular disaster training drills and less than half (40 percent) have written agreements with emergency service organizations. In short, according to the report, more effort needs to be put into coordinating emergency response to weather-related problems.

“Cooperation is necessary in order to tackle major crises,” Havnelid said. “When three out of 10 local governments lack even warning routines, it’s serious. Both the fire at Lærdal and the severe storm called Dagmar  showed that the contributions of voluntary organizations were critical to the emergency response.”

‘Extreme’ due to become normal
The meteorologists warn that Norway will continue to be hit by terrible weather that’s now considered “extreme” but likely will become the norm in years ahead. As reported earlier, Norway is expected to be drenched by much more rain but much less snow in the run-up to 2100, because of a 2- to 4-degree rise in average temperatures.

The report estimated that the amount of rain falling on Norway will increase by 5 and 30 percent, depending on the area, while there will be more days with heavy and potentially damaging rain. Snow depths will increase at higher elevations but decrease dramatically at lower elevations, with snow disappearing almost entirely in some coastal areas except for an occasional heavy dump. The meteorologists predicted that some low-lying areas will see the traditional winter season reduced, with the period of snow-cover two to three months shorter than now.

More frequent and heavier rainfall suggests far more danger of flooding and landslides, and local governments are urged to restrict building in areas most prone to floods. “Good preparedness is all about having good systems, and regulations, in place,” Havnelid said.

New flooding in Vestfold
Meanwhile, emergency crews in Vestfold County, southwest of Oslo, were overwhelmed on Thursday by calls for help from homeowners facing flooded cellars after another bout of pouring rain. Homes in Horten and Åsgårdstrand were hit the hardest, but calls for pumping services also came in from Nøtterøy, Sandefjord and Tønsberg. The heavy rain overloaded sewer systems, causing water to back up and into low-lying drains.

“There are many people who have been waiting for help for a long time now, and aren’t very happy,” Fred Olaf Korsgården of the Vestviken emergency central told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “But we’re working as fast as we can.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund