UPDATED: A powerful storm that bore down on Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard prompted local officials to close several roads on Monday and evacuate residents where there was danger of landslides. On Tuesday, after a night of pouring rain, evacuation orders were maintained and even expanded.
“We had some thorough discussions with the meteorological institute and NVE (Norway’s state agency in charge of waterways),” district governor and sheriff Kjerstin Askholt told state broadcaster NRK. “Based on that, we decided to close off various areas and roads and order some evacuations.” The evacuation order was in force until noon on Tuesday, and was extended indefinitely Tuesday afternoon because of the fear of landslides. The local online news service Icepeople reported how some residents spotted cracks in the mountainsides above their homes (external link) and were themselves anxious to leave.
Those initially affected were told to be out of their homes by 3pm Monday, when the worst of the storm was expected to hit with strong wind and heavy rain. Askholt had said there may be additional evacuation orders issued or extended, since more heavy rain was expected, and ended up falling, on Tuesday.
State meteorologists warned that as much as 50 millimeters of rain would pour down on Longyearbyen, with up to 100 millemeters in mountainous areas. The entire group of islands making up Svalbard was in a state of emergency, as the severe storm moved in from the southwest.
“This is an unusually large among of precipitation for Svalbard,” Askholt said. “Combined with the winds, this is weather we’re not accustomed to up here, so we don’t really know how it will play out. NVE, however, was very clear that it could result in landslides and flooding.”
Askholt said the storm was creating “a serious situation, but when we take these measures, we’re trying to avoid this becoming dramatic.”
Unusually mild weather in October also led to a lot of rain in an otherwise relatively dry area, and it set off several landslides around Longyearbyen, which is the largest settlement on Svalbard. On Monday, the temperature on Svalbard was above freezing at +4C, compared to subzero temperatures much farther to the south, in Oslo, for example.
Local newspaper Svalbardposten reported that Longyearbyen’s airport, however, remained open Monday with airline traffic and postal flights running as usual. Local flights around Svalbard, however, were cancelled because of wind and turbulence.