Tense avalanche situation around Longyearbyen | Polarjournal
Several avalanches around Longyearbyen have been recorded in the past few days. Also near Barentsburg a big avalanche went off (above) and had just missed people who had been on the road. Meanwhile, some snowmobile trails are closed. Photo: Sysselmannen

In Central Europe, the weather is making headlines with sometimes severe winter spells and wildly fluctuating temperatures. Also on Svalbard, snowstorms have passed through again and again in the past weeks and have fueled the avalanche danger around Longyearbyen. At some point, the authorities had set the threat level to Level 4, the second highest level.

During the course of last week, several avalanches went off near the Russian town of Barentsburg and around Longyearbyen, fortunately causing no casualties or damage. But with the avalanche near Barentsburg there was also a stroke of luck, because a group of snowmobiles was travelling in that area and the masses of snow only just missed the participants. Snowstorms and low temperatures make the snow on the sometimes steep slopes around Longyearbyen a danger. As a result, authorities had set the threat level at 4 (out of 5) over the weekend and also issued warnings for those going out. Some of the snowmobile trails were closed as a precaution.

A large snowdrift towers over the village of Nybyen. The Sysselmannen had used drones to estimate the thickness of the snow masses and their potential danger. Since Friday, residents on the east side of Nybyen have been evacuated as a precaution. Image: Sysselmannen_via_NVE

In addition to issuing the second-highest warning level, Sysselmannen in Longyearbyen again evacuated people from the eastern side of the Nybyen district and closed roads and snowmobile trails on that side. Unlike last time, however, this time there is still no easing in sight. That’s because a huge pile of snow hangs over the hamlet, having accumulated after the latest snowstorm last Friday. The Sysselmannen had analysed the situation with the help of drone flights and came to the conclusion that the up to 5 metres high cornice would pose a substantial danger. Then over the weekend, the administration’s concerns became reality. On Saturday, a large avalanche came down in the Hiorthfjellet area, opposite Longyearbyen and close to houses. And on Sunday, masses of snow again crashed down from the slopes above near the well-known Gjestehuset 102 in Nybyen. Fortunately, in both cases there were no casualties or damage to buildings.

The hazard map (left) shows that the authorities consider the avalanche danger around Longyearbyen and Barentsburg to be level 3. Accordingly, as of today, Tuesday, the eastern part of Nybyen is still closed and residents are not yet allowed to return to their homes. Pictures: left VARSOM, right Lokalstyret

In the meantime, the situation has eased slightly and the authorities have reset the danger level to 3. Nevertheless, the situation is not over yet and the inhabitants of the evacuated houses cannot return yet. The Sysselmannen continue to monitor the situation closely in order to be able to decide on a situational basis how to proceed. According to experts, the snow cornice cannot be defused by explosions, as the risk of damage to the buildings below is too great, according to a press release from the responsible office for water and energy NVE.

Hiorthham and Hiorthfjellet are popular destinations for Longyearbyen residents. Several houses stand there, where the inhabitants find from the “hectic of the big city”. The area can only be reached by snowmobile at this time of year. Saturday’s avalanche went down in the V-shaped cauldron (right front). Picture: Michael Wenger

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

More on the subject:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This