WINDY WHITEOUT: Blizzard puts Longyearbyen on avalanche alert, delays flight to mainland until at least after midnight


A blizzard resulting in heavy snow and near-zero visibility Monday has triggered an avalanche alert for Longyearbyen, and led to the cancellation of one passenger flight to the mainland and the delay of a second until at least after midnight Tuesday, according to officials.

A Level-Three alert (“considerable”) is in effect for Monday which, while below the Level-Four status that typically has led to previous evacuations, is still sufficient that The Governor of Svalbard is monitoring conditions.

“The governor is following the weather situation during the coming hours  and will continuously consider if there is a need for measures,” a post at the governor’s Facebook page notes. “People are encouraged to take their precautions and be careful during passage in the terrain.”

The forecast for Monday by The Norwegian Avalanche Warning Service urges people to avoid steep slopes because “persistent weak layers deeper in the snowpack increase the risk for large avalanches.”

“Avoid steep (more than 30 degrees) areas with fresh wind deposited snow, especially convex terrain,” the forecast notes. “An avalanche is easier to trigger where wind slabs are thin or soft. Look for areas where the wind recently has deposited snow, typically behind ridges, ribs and in gullies. Remember that local wind effects will cause variation in where the wind slabs occur.”

Level-Three conditions are also forecast Tuesday and Wednesday.

The weather forecast by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute calls for heavy snow during the day tapering off during the evening, but continuing through Tuesday and increasing in intensity again Wednesday. Winds gusting to 60 kilometers an hour are also expected to diminish during the evening, but return in strength with the snow Wednesday. Temperatures are expected to drop from about minus nine degree Celsius as of Monday afternoon to minus 11 degrees on Tuesday before rising to just below freezing on Wednesday.

The storm has resulted in the cancellation of Scandinavian Airlines’ regular Monday flight to the mainland, with a new flight scheduled at 12:55 p.m. Tuesday, and is delaying the scheduled flight of Norwegian Air to Olso until a new scheduled time of 12:45 a.m. Tuesday, according to a statement by Widerøe Ground Handling.

“Food will be served at the airport between 3 and 8 p.m.,” the statement notes. “Note: This is the only place delayed passengers can get (free) food at; Norwegian does not cover other food expenses in town.”

A shuttle to the airport is scheduled to depart from the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel at 10:30 p.m.