Svalbard blows big time

Gale-force blizzard

The forecast was scary, including hurricane-force winds in some areas. As it turns out, there wasn’t much to be seen.

A storm on Sunday draped Longyearbyen and much of Svalbard in a zero-visibility curtain of white as the wind and heavy snow brought much of the activity in the area to a standstill. Flights and outdoor excursions were canceled, and large snow drifts clogged roads and building entrances, but officials said there were no reports of injured or missing people.

“We could not have gotten the rescue helicopters in the air, but we have a very astute Red Cross patrol in Svalbard,” Trond Olsen, a police chief inspector for The Governor of Svalbard, told Nordlys. “Anyway we would probably have had to wait until the weather calmed before we could initiate any rescue.”

The high winds struck at midday and continued through much of the night, reaching hurricane speeds off the southwest and northeast coasts, and gale speeds in Longyearbyen. Temperatures rose rapidly from about minus 20 degrees Celsius at midday Sunday to above freezing by Monday, resulting in rain that turned much of the snow to slush.

While most Longyearbyen residents stayed indoors during the worst of the storm, Svalbardposten reported seeing a few people on “walking tours” and taking photos – and one on a bicycle.