Winter returns after record warmth

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UPDATED: Winter was finally returning to most of the Norwegian territory this week. After months of unseasonably warm temperatures, not least on Svalbard, subzero temperatures were setting in and even Oslo residents were told to brace for temperatures down to as low as minus-8C on Thursday.

Ny-Ålesund, verdens nordligste bosetting. Foto: Trond Viken, Nærings- og fiskeridepartementet.

The grass was still green here at Ny-Ålesund as late as September, and temperatures mostly stayed above the freezing point on Svalbard well into December. PHOTO: Nærings- og fiskeridepartementet/Trond Viken

Thermometers in Northern Norway, meanwhile, were due to show double-digit numbers below the freezing point, with Kautokeino predicted to be shivering at around minus-27C during the night later this week. Temperatures of minus-18C were already forecast for Kirkenes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In Trøndelag, central Norway, it was snowing so much on Tuesday that motorists ran into lots of trouble and a flight from Oslo to Trondheim had to turn around when the airport at Værnes was forced to close. Snowplowing crews couldn’t keep up with the downfall.

Clearer elsewhere, but finally colder
A new weather system east of the mountains of Southern Norway was due to bring mostly clear skies but much colder temperatures along with some snow flurries. The New Year will get off to a colder start, but state meteorologist Espen Biseth Granan stressed that no large quantities of snow were expected.

“Since the sun is also turning now, this first week in January will feel lighter than the days were during the holidays,” Granan told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Skiers still can’t expect to enjoy any freshly prepared trails around the Oslo area, though, or elsewhere at lower elevations. Another bout of stormy weather, meanwhile, was moving and due to hit Norway’s West Coast Tuesday evening.

The colder weather expected in inland areas will be in sharp contrast to the near summer-like temperatures that characterized December. New records were set in Aust-Agder, where thermometers showed temps of as much as 14C (nearly 60F) at Lyngør, and in Østfold, where Rygge recorded 13.6C. Stein Kristiansen of the climate division at the state meterological institute, said the temperature at Rygge was the highest ever recorded in December.

Svalbard stuns researchers
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that nowhere have temperatures been so alarmingly warm as on Svalbard. Norway’s island archipelago in the Arctic, far north of the Norwegian mainland, has now recorded 75 months in a row of temperatures over what’s considered normal. The grass was still green at Ny-Ålesund in September, and temperatures remained above the freezing point through October, November and December. Instead of snow, Svalbard was hit with rainstorms that also forced evacuations because of landslide and avalanche fears.

The entire year of 2016 was the warmest ever registered on Svalbard. Temperatures as high as 10.1C were recorded in October, 6C in November and 4.8C in December, at a time when average temperatures registered since 1911 have normally been around minus-20C.

Arild Olsen, the mayor of Longyearbyen who has lived on Svalbard for 17 years, told Aftenposten he misses the sound of cold, dry snow crackling under his boots. This week there was only some wet snow covering the streets after weeks of rain, wind and only intermittent blizzards.

‘Worries all of us’
“We’re now experiencing all four seasons during a short time,” Olsen said with a sigh. “Everything is less predictable.” He’s not alone in being worried about how climate change is hitting Svalbard with full force.

“This is very, very strange and worries all of us who work with the climate,” said Kristiansen of the meteorological institute. He said the “dramatic” changes are applying to all of the Arctic.

“This is a taste of what will also be happening farther south (on mainland Norway),” Kristianen said. “What we’re experiencing in terms of abnormal warmth and precipitation, and less predictable weather, will also soon apply to the mainland.” Some think it already does. Berglund