THE APPROACHING STORM: New forecast calls for more intense winds and more snow in Longyearbyen to 90 km/h; Svalbardbutikken open until at least noon


Update (11:20 a.m. Thursday): The Norwegian Meteorological Institute has slightly revised and downgraded the peak severity of the storm, with strong gale force winds of 85-90 kilometers per hour now forecast between 3-6 p.m. and slowly diminishing until 10 p.m. Svalbardbutikken will close at noon. Mix kiosk will also close about that time. Svalbard Auto is open as of noon. Assemblin is offering plumbing services at 900 42 509. Governor issues heightened safety alert warning of blowing objects in town and advising everyone to stay inside.

Original story: A major storm expected to bring hurricane-force winds of more than 160 kilometers an hour and extreme avalanche danger to Svalbard on Thursday grew in intensity overnight Wednesday, with the forecast now calling for stronger winds of up to 90 kilometers an hour in Longyearbyen and up to nearly eight millimeters (potentially 10cm or more) of precipitation.

Intense wind and blowing snow were already being felt in Nybyen when an evacuation order went into effect at 8 a.m. (full 30-second video at icepeople092518/nybyen.mp4). Video by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople 

The forecast for Longyearbyen by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute as of Thursday morning calls for winds building to gale speeds of 65 kilometers an hour by 11 a.m. and remaining at strong gale speeds between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m., with peak intensity between 4 and 9 p.m. The most intense snowfall, totalling up to 5.4 millimeters is forecast between noon and 6 p.m.

A Level Four (“high”) avalanche risk area has been declared, which the weather service considers “red alert” status. The high winds and snow will also mean extremely poor visibility and drifts able to build quickly.

At 8 a.m. Thursday there was no sign of activity in Nybyen, where 81 student dorms were evacuated, but gusts of blowing snow in an exposed area at the top of hill were already blowing with enough strength to make holding a camera steady impossible. Meanwhile, in the center of town at Svalbardbutikken – which opened early at 8 a.m. to accommodate those needing supplies – there were intermittent calm and modest winds.


Employees at Svalbardbutikken perform their normal duties Thursday morning – albeit two hours earlier than the normal opening – but managers expect the store will close sometime around midday or early afternoon as storm conditions worsen. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

But conditions are expected to worsen rapidly by the hour and Roger Johansen, a co-manager at Svalbardbutikken, said the store is likely to close sometime around or shortly after midday.

“The governor warned us not to be here past noon,” he said, adding that was a general guideline and the closing would be determined by the safety of conditions outside.

In addition to the dorms in Nybyen, The Governor of Svalbard ordered the evacuation of 28 homes along Vei in the central Longyearbyen neighborhood of Lia, where two avalanches that destroyed homes have been triggered from Sukkertoppen. Residents were advised to arrange their own emergency housing and, while city emergency personnel gathered at Kulturhuset beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday for those still in need, only four people stopped by during the first hour.

“The very positive thing is most people have made arrangements with friends,” said Sissel Hultgren, one of the crisis housing staff, who also noted the number of evacuations was small compared to past storms. “We’re going to manage this one for sure.”

While housing officials said they might only be at Kulturhuset until 10 a.m., those needing help can call 7902 2360.


Snowploughs stand ready in the Svalbardbutikken parking lot Thursday morning in anticipation of significant accumulation expected to begin late morning. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople

Much of the Lia neighborhood most at-risk was evacuated in December for the rest of the winter due to the general risk of avalanches. Those homes and others at risk are scheduled to be demolished beginning next fall.

Public city facilities such as schools, Svalbardhallen, Longyearbyen Library and Galleri Svalbard are closed. Svalbard Church and Svalbard Museum are among the other locations closed.