Slush funk: Svalbard turns into watery winter wasteland with Norway’s highest temperatures


Temperatures in Svalbard aren’t that far above average – for August.

But being on the opposite side of the calendar year means the high temperatures at various places in the archipelago are – to repeat an oft-used phrase as of late – freakishly warm. The average historical temperature for February at Longyearbyen Airport is minus 16 degrees Celsius, but highs from Sunday through Tuesday were 5.6, 5.9 and 5.4 degrees, respectively, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

A temperature of 4.1 degrees at 7 a.m. Tuesday was the warmest in Norway at the time. The highs during the past three days have been well above the historical average in August of 4.7 degrees. The single-day temperature record for February is seven degrees set in 2012.

“It’s in Svalbard that one sees most clearly that the climate has changed,” Håvard Larsen, a consultant for the meteorological institute, told Nordlys. “What before was very unusual is now becoming quite common. It has reached a point where one might call it scary.”

More immediate affects are being felt by tour operators and others trying to move about outdoors during the beginning of peak tourism season. The high temperatures and accompanying intermittent rain has dissolved much of snow cover, and what remains is largely icy surfaces covered with dense slush and pools of water.

“We are trying to offer some alternatives, but it is clear rain is not what one wants coming to Svalbard,” Tore Magne Hoem, activities director for Hurtigruten Svalbard, told NRK.

Temperatures at Svea on Monday also reached 5.9 degrees, while the high in Ny-Ålesund was four degrees.

Ny Ålesund, the world’s northernmost climate and environmental research station, measured 4 °C. In Svea, a small mining community south of Longyearbyen the thermometer peaked to 5.9 °C.

A high pressure system over Finland is causing the heat wave, according to weather officials. And in a pattern also seen repeatedly in recent years, the warmth here is plunging parts of mainland Europe into a deep freeze as cold Arctic air is driven south.

“Heavy snow, blizzards, freezing gales and lethal ice sheets threaten to plunge the nation into the most severe winter lockdown for six years,” an article in London’s Daily Express states.

Temperatures in Svalbard much of the past week hovered within a few degrees of the historical average, with highs a few degrees above and lows reaching minus 21 degrees at one point. But that is now the exception the modern-day norm, temperatures have been above average for 74 straight months as of January.