AVALANCHE UPDATE: Gruvelageret evacuated, Huset closed until at least Sunday due to potential avalanche danger

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The evacuation of Gruvelageret and closing of Huset (except for presold groups at the restaurant Friday) until at least Sunday was ordered Friday afternoon by The Governor of Svalbard due to a storm that dumped several inches of snow and strong winds that are causing sizable drifts.

The road between the old museum near Longyearbyen Cemetery and Huset is also closed.

“It is expected that the weather situation will get worse, with stronger winds and snowdrift from Saturday afternoon and onwards,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said in a prepared statement issued at about 3:30 p.m. Friday.

A new assessment of snow conditions is expected Sunday.

In addition to the closures, some events related to this year’s Solfestuka festival have been delayed or cancelled. The governor’s office is cancelling its hosted open day at the trapper’s cabin at Fredheim, although a hosted day and a midday Mass on Sunday are still scheduled.

The “Take A Chance” sledding competition scheduled at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mälardalen (across the bay from Longyearbyen) has been cancelled. It is unknown if the event will be rescheduled.

Light snow is forecast much of Saturday, with a somewhat heavier rate of accumulation between 6 a.m. and midnight, and peaks winds are expected to increase from about 35 kilometers an hour during the day to about 50 kilometers an hour during the evening, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. Temperatures are expected to be between minus 15 and minus 20 degrees Celsius below zero.

Sunday’s forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, diminishing winds and continued cold temperatures.

A Level Three risk (“considerable”) of avalanches is forecast for the Longyearbyen area through at least Sunday, according to The Norwegian Avalanche Centre.

“The snowpack is very unstable,” the forecast notes. “Avoid areas with wind-deposited snow. It is also possible to trigger avalanches in a persistent weak layer in old snow found in bowls and gullies.”

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