STORMY MEMORIES: Second anniversary memorial for deadly avalanche will take place during first serious blizzard of season


UPDATE 8:45 P.M. MONDAY – MEMORIAL GATHERING CANCELLED: Due to the storm and evacuation of dozens of home in at-risk areas, the second-anniversary avalanche memorial at Svalbard Church has been cancelled.

Original story: It won’t be anything like the storm that caused the tragic avalanche two years ago. But it’ll be bad enough to make reliving a bad experience even more chilling.

A storm with heavy snowfall and high winds is expected to hit Longyearbyen on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the most intense period coinciding with a memorial gathering at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Svalbard Church. The Norwegian Meteorological Institute is forecasting up to 15 millimeters of precipitation and winds gusting to 65 kilometers an hour. The worst of the storm is expected to pass by midnight.

But unlike last year’s first-year anniversary memorial of the avalanche, this year’s official ceremony is entire indoors at the church.

“It will be possible to put flowers and candles on Vei 230 during the day,” according to a statement from The Governor of Svalbard, referring to the area where the avalanche occurred. “There will be a light burning in the area beginning in the morning.”

The memorial gathering will feature candlelight, music and speeches by Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen, Gov. Kjerstin Askholt and Priest Leif Magne Helgesen.

The avalanche shortly before noon on Dec. 19, 2015, destroyed 11 homes and killed two people. It was preceded by the worst snowstorm in more than 30 years, with winds up to 120 kilometers an hour resulting in snowdrifts that were several meters high.

An avalanche warning system was activated shortly after the incident, which was further upgraded following a second avalanche in February of this year. The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate is predicting conditions on Tuesday will be Level 3 (“considerable”) due to storm, although no evacuation of homes are being considered by the governor as of Monday afternoon. The governor has already ordered an evacuation of more than a dozen residential buildings in at-risk areas – which are already mostly uninhabited – as of Dec. 22.