The Heat Is Online

Six Foot Snows Bury Norwegian Town

Arctic Norway buried under record snowfalls

Reuters News Service, March 31, 2000

OSLO - Record snowfalls in Arctic Norway have triggered avalanches and forced scores of people to abandon buried homes - some of them through attic windows.

The mayor of Hammerfest, which calls itself the world's most northerly town, suggested it would be cheaper to abandon an entire neighbourhood and build new homes elsewhere than to build avalanche defenses up one steep hillside.

"We want to live here, but we cannot afford to secure the area alone," Alf Jakobsen told Reuters, pleading for more funds for avalanche protection.

More than two metres (six feet) of snow has fallen in Tromsoe, northern Norway's biggest city, so far in March, a record for the month. While most Europeans are enjoying spring, many in the Arctic north are digging their way out of snow-covered homes every day.

One elderly man escaped through a loft window after waking to find the doors and other windows of his home sealed up with snow. Another man made it out of the door seconds before an avalanche crushed his home.

Police said they had evacuted 216 people from the region of west Finnmark since Wednesday because their homes had either collapsed under the snow or were threatened by avalanches. "Snow and gales are a dangerous combination," said Harry Romsdal, chief of police in Hammerfest. At least six buildings have collapsed this week.

He said one man had been swept across a 500-metre (1,600-foot) wide fjord by an avalanche and managed to scramble back to land on the masses of snow, escaping the icy water.

Three soldiers died this month when the roof of a building being used as a commando post collapsed under the snow.

Jakobsen said the weather had cut roads and isolated some coastal communities for several days, and had cost millions of crowns (hundreds of thousands of dollars) so far.

Meteorologists say that the record snows are not evidence that the planet is getting colder - and may even be a side-effect of global warming. "Warmer temperatures bring more evaporation from the sea, which means more humidity and precipitation," said Jan Erik Paulsen at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.