AVALANCHE UPDATE: Longyearbyen added to Norway’s daily avalanche warning system


Daily reports about avalanche conditions in Longyearbyen and the surrounding area are now being provided as the city was added to Norway’s avalanche warning system Wednesday.

The monitoring comes four days after one of the worst storms in Longyearbyen’s recorded history triggered an avalanche on Sukketoppen that buried 11 homes near the center of town and forced 180 people to evacuate their homes due to the risk of additional slides. Experts from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, two of whom did citywide assessments after Saturday’s avalanche, will provide their assessments at the website operated by The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate Norwegian Geotechnical Institute.

The first monitoring report will be published Thursday. People can also report their observations about snow conditions using the website.

“Messages about local snow conditions in Longyearbyen should be reported to the NGI and, together with assessments of meteorological data and topographical conditions, will become the basis for the NGI’s daily reporting of avalanche danger and probability an avalanche might reach buildings and infrastructure,” a statement issued Wednesday by the directorate notes. “Avalanche forecasts each morning will be sent by the NVE to authorities in Svalbard.”


The five-level European Avalanche Hazard Scale states the risk in Longyearbyen during Saturday’s avalanche was “high,” meaning “triggering is probable even with low additional loads on many steep slopes.”

The warning system uses the standard five-level European Avalanche Hazard Scale. Saturday’s avalanche occurred in level-four conditions, the second-highest possible, due to the accumulation of a large amount of snow in a few hours and winds up to 120 kilometers an hour.

The lack of an avalanche warning system in Longyearbyen was harshly criticized in January when Emanuel Storaunet, 21, was killed by a snowslide in a popular snowmobiling area near town. A pilot training and monitoring project was scheduled to begin in February of next year.

Anne Britt Leifseth, director of the Norwegian Avalanche Centre, told Aftenposten on Saturday she couldn’t rule out the possibility the homes buried in that avalanche could have been evacuated beforehand if a system existed.

“Longyearbyen is extremely avalanche prone, that is well documented,” she said. “Therefore it is important to put in place an early warning systems in Svalbard also.”