STORM UPDATE: Mayor says snow in mountains a concern since rain and heat tonight may trigger avalanches


Officials inspecting the mountains of Longyearbyen by helicopter at midday Tuesday are assessing the risk of avalanches as well as the potential landslide threat that may exist during the rain and warm temperatures forecast for tonight, according to Mayor Arild Olsen.Olsen, speaking just before going into a 1 p.m. meeting of the local emergency council to determine if evacuation orders affected 140 people should be modified, said it’s safer to err on the side of caution if there’s doubt since the residences in question are already empty – a vastly preferable option to letting people go home and then forcing them out again.

He said displaced residents who stayed in city-provided emergency housing Monday night should be able to remain there tonight if necessary. For people needing clothes, cookware and other essentials, the free Bruktikken second-hand store is scheduled to be open from 4 to 7 p.m. today

About 4.5 millimeters of precipitation is forecast between 6 p.m. and noon Wednesday, a rate far below what would traditionally trigger landslides. But Olsen noted temperatures, which were at zero degrees Celsuis at noon Tuesday, are expected to rise to five degrees tonight.

“We don’t know how much snow is in the mountains,” he said, noting a thaw and rain would result in a high-risk of releasing those loads.