STORM UPDATE: Governor orders evacuation of Nybyen; will evaluate situation in other areas at 2 p.m. Wednesday


An order requiring people in Nybyen to evacuate their buildings due to an approaching snowstorm was issued just before noon Wednesday by The Governor of Svalbard. Residents in Lia beneath Sukkertoppen, where an avalanche struck last Dec. 19 after a similar storm of greater intensity, are being allowed to remain pending a further assessment of the situation at 2 p.m.

“According to NVE’s ratings Wednesday morning, there is a possibility of smaller avalanches in Longyearbyen, but not so that they will jeopardize settlements,” a statement issued by the governor’s office notes. “Nybyen will be most at risk and is therefore ordered evacuated. The road to Nybyen will be closed from school. The road to Huset on the west side of Longyeardalen will remain open.”

People must evacuate the area by 3 p.m.

The storm, expected to hit with its greatest intensity between 6 p.m. Wednesday and noon Thursday, is forecast to result in nine to 18 millimeters of precipitation, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. Gale-force winds of 90 kilometers an hour and gusts to 135 kilometers an hour in exposed locations are also forecast.

By comparison, the forecast for last year’s storm called for up to 23 millimeters of precipitation and winds gusting to 160 kilometers an hour.

The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate has stated there is a level-four risk of avalanches (the second-highest possible) Wednesday and Thursday, which could  result in the natural release of size-three avalanches with a mass between 1,000 to 10,000 cubic meters that can “bury a car, destroy a small building, or break trees.”

By contrast, the avalanche that struck last year consisted of more than 50,000 cubic meters of snow, placing it in the maximum size-four category on the European scale. But the agency is also guarded about it current prediction.

City officials are asking evacuees to find their own temporary housing. For those needing assistance, a meeting is scheduled on the second floor of Næringsbygget (the main municipal building attached to Kulturhuset) at 3 p.m.

In addition to the evacuations ordered by the governor, the city is also asking residents to move vehicles from the side of the road due to the snow that will be pushed there by plows.

“Equipment and snowmobiles must also be placed far enough away from the roadside that are not taken by the plows or cutters,” a statement issued at the city’s website notes. “Cars must be parked in parking areas so that roads can be kept open. It is also important to secure loose objects.”

Furthermore, parents are requested to keep children away from snowcaps.

Officials are also urging people to avoid travel after 6 p.m. As a result, the annual Christmas Tree party at Svalbard Church tonight has been cancelled and will possibly be rescheduled for another day) and the movie “Dyrene i Hakkebakkeskogen” will be shown at 4 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. at Kulturhuset (all advance e-tickets have been refunded, so new ones must be purchased).