Storm update: Friday flights cancelled, extra flights Saturday, no major incidents reported as hurricane nears

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If the worst that happens is a lot of people have to agonizingly reschedule their holiday flights and plans, it may be something of a Christmas blessing.

Flights between Longyearbyen and the mainland were cancelled Friday, stranding hundreds of locals planning to depart on what was known as the “evacuation flight” even before a storm that forecasters say may be the worst in Svalbard’s history made its initial incursion.

Extra flights by both Norwegian Air and Scandinavian Airlines are scheduled late Saturday, after the worst of the storm is expected to pass, to accommodate holiday travelers, although some going beyond the mainland were less than thrilled about trying to rebook complex international itineraries during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

The storm, as promised, dumped plenty of snow on Longyearbyen and other parts of Svalbard on Friday, but conditions generally remained manageable as of 6 p.m. The worst of the storm is expected to occur between 8 p.m. Friday night and 8 a.m. Saturday, where hurricane force winds exceeding 160 kilometers an hour may hit some exposed areas.

Heavy snowfall, resulting in tightly packed drifts potentially several meters high, is also forecast Friday night and Saturday.

The Governor of Svalbard reported no major incidents as of Friday afternoon. But the Longyearbyen post office canceled its deliveries for the day, some businesses were closed, and some public events moved or rescheduled. LNS Spitsbergen, in a Facebook post Friday evening, requested people avoid driving because their equipment is unable to keep up with snow accumulation on the streets. Longyearbyen Harbor, in a post, urged locals to avoid coastal areas due to seawater residule accumulation and particles.

On a warmer note, Svalbard Museum announced it will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and offer a 10-kroner holiday buffet of coffee, Christmas cookies and clementine oranges.

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