Heavy snow Wednesday and predictions of more to come through Friday is prompting The Governor of Svalbard to urge people not to travel in mountainous terrain due to a high risk of avalanches and the likelihood rescues will be extremely difficult due to poor visibility.
The storm also resulted in the cancellation of the passenger and mail flights to Longyearbyen on Wednesday.
About 30 centimeters of snow fell at Svalbard Airport for the 24-hour period ending at 3 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. About the same amount may fall by 2 a.m. Thursday, with modest snow forecast later during the day and another significant storm arriving by Friday afternoon.
A Level Four risk level (“high” – one from the maximum) is forecast for the entire region within day-trip range of Longyearbyen, including Barentsburg and the east coast. There has been major snow accumulations during the past couple of weeks which, combined with strong wind storms, is resulting in large amounts of unstable snowpack on mountains.
The governor’s office has received numerous reports of avalanches during the past day, Svalbardposten reported at midday Wednesday.
“There have been avalanches in Gangdalen, Todalen and Bødalen,” Police Chief Lt. Anders Haugerud told the newspaper. “No one has been taken by the avalanches. Conditions now indicate that no one should move into areas at risk of avalanches.”
The poor visibility due to heavy blowing snow means rescues by helicopter may not be possible, he added. Such conditions prevented rescue attempts during the weekend when a expedition needed medical rescues twice within a one-day period near Ny-Ålesund, with officials from that settlement responding by snowmobile instead.
The postal and Scandinavian Airlines flights cancelled Wednesday will take place Thursday if weather permits, but passengers on a Norwegian Air flight will have to wait until Friday when that airline is next scheduled to fly to Svalbard.