UPDATED: Thousands of Norwegians started the New Year by being stuck in snowdrifts or trying to shovel their way out of them. The enormous amounts of snow that have buried much of the southern part of the country were branded as “unusual,” and more snow is expected throughout the week.
State meteorologists had issued warnings of heavy snow accompanied by strong winds, and the storms set in as expected on New Year’s Eve. By New Year’s Day transport of all types was disrupted and thousands of residents in the southwestern county of Agder lost their electricity.
Officials in the southern cities of Kristiansand and Arendal set up crisis management teams to handle the deluge, as did the smaller coastal community of Risør after nearly 70 centimeters had fallen by Monday afternoon. Local authorities also opened up city garages for free, so that motorists who managed to dig out their cars parked on city streets could get them out of the way and make it easier for snowplows to clear streets and sidewalks.
By Tuesday afternoon most municipalities along the coast including Kristiansand, Lillesand, Tvedestrand, Risør and Arendal had decided to keep schools closed at least through Wednesday because of the weather conditions. The Red Cross made extra ambulances available in case of emergencies and more than a dozen snowmobiles were put into service to transport medical teams if necessary.
The snow had kept falling through the night and Tuesday, forcing shutdown of local train lines including Arendalsbanen, portions of Sørlandsbanen and Vestfoldbanen farther north. Commuters living in Tønsberg had few alternatives on Tuesday, also because roads were snarled by snow, and were urged to work from home if possible.
Bus service in Oslo, meanwhile, was also struggling and then the busy E6 motorway into Oslo from the south closed at Ås Tuesday morning after a serious car accident. Motorists venturing out in their cars were urged to have plenty of warm clothes or blankets, food and drink with them in case they got stuck. They also were told to have a spade in the car, since snow was falling so fast “and blowing in all directions” that they may need to dig themselves out.
Oslo officials announced Tuesday afternoon that the snow would cause delays in garbage collection because garbarge trucks faced severe access problems to pick-up points. “We apologize to all those who won’t get their garbage picked up as usual, men hope for understanding and patience because of the difficult conditions for us,” said Marianne Holen of the city agency in charge.
Meanwhile, there was more traffic trouble throughout the day, especially after the main E18 highway had to close near Grimstad on the southern coast. Several vehicles got stuck as snow continued to fall. State meteorologists warned that as much as 40 more centimeters of snow may fall by Thursday, on top of the roughly 70 already on the ground.
The snow outside homes in Grimstad, better known as a popular summer holiday destination, was well above knee-level, while downtown Kristiansand appeared all but inundated. Driving was otherwise discouraged all over Southern Norway, with local mayors urging people to “just stay home.”
Ruter, the public transport agency in the Oslo area, considered shutting down all bus traffic Monday afternoon because road crews couldn’t keep streets cleared. “This is just getting worse and worse,” Ruter spokesperson Gro Janbor told newspaper Aftenposten. “It’s slippery and there’s just too much snow.”
Reduced service continued on important cross-town bus lines but even the tram from downtown up to the hills at Frognerseteren, a popular skiing destination, had to shut down early Monday afternoon.
The weather was worse along the coast than in the mountains, where many roads stayed open. Motorists had to wait in long lines to join escorted convoys, though, also on the main E134 highway over Haukeli.
State meteorologists extended their warnings for heavy snow and difficult transport conditions through Wednesday, when temperatures were due to plummet in line with a new cold front moving in. Oslo residents are among those warned of frigid temperatures well into next week.