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.
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.
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.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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