The dangers of sudden summer

Well, Iceland’s volcano is now supposedly running out of gas, so we can optimistically hope for a return to normal life. Not only has it been monopolizing headlines, but little Eyafjelljökull was threatening to continue muddling my travel plans for the unforeseeable future. Just two days ago researchers were talking about how flights here could be down on average a full week each month if the hothead set off larger sibling Katla.

I was cultivating a theory that the volcanic eruptions were linked to hailstorms here, as what was supposed to be spring was regularly punctuated by icy balls of precipitation every time flights were disrupted. But then ash bursts started coinciding with beautiful weather, and now summer appears to have broken out directly from winter.

While reeling with sudden sweltering temperatures, I was struck by an odd local headline – ‘Blue-green snow can be lethal’ screamed tabloid VG. A lot has happened since my last blog entry. For one thing, Aftenposten has become Norway’s most popular newspaper for the first time in decades, so VG needs an extra injection of hysterics. Not too big an injection, both papers are owned by a single media giant.

The other change was, as mentioned, it has gotten hot in Norway. Why was funny colored snow suddenly a scary headline?

Well, there is a connection. As weather warms up, the urge to ramble in the mountains awakens in the Norwegian spirit, and fallen snow begins to become saturated with water. This results in the snow taking on an eerie blueish glow, and a growing danger of slush-slides, which pose a terrifying danger.

Hikers are urged to exercise extreme caution, and four people were killed after a sudden slide in Jamtfjelltinden. The sudden transition from winter to summer plays a role in this condition, a source at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute told VG.

The saturated snow can accumulate in various features of the terrain, and turns into a racing, flowing avalanche of snow, earth and rock once a tipping point is reached. Unlike an avalanche of snow which is often set off by careless skiers, a slush-slide is not influenced by human behavior.

“A slush-slide moves like a liquid, which gives great speed and energy. It takes all available material with it on the way downhill,” NGI representative Anders Solheim told VG. These slides are more dangerous than snow-slides; they are faster, offer no air pockets to hide in and can pack over three times the density of material per cubic meter.

“There is little to be done except try to avoid the danger as much as possible,” says Solheim. So beware of blue-green snow.

A photo of blueing snow can be seen here.

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