Fifty degrees below zero? Storms that blow the roofs off the houses? Two metres (six feet) of snow in the middle of town? This is the sort of thing that happens in winter time in Northern Norway, and that is when the media comes visiting. But more often than not the winter weather is much nicer to be out in.

At the world's end

A glance at the map is enough to scare the wits out of the regular traveller; Northern Norway is on the same latitude as the northern coasts of Alaska and Siberia. A Northern Norwegian winter is surely an extreme experience reserved for expeditions and extreme sports athletes? Actually, there is one factor that is often overlooked, namely the Gulf Stream. The lukewarm waters from Mexico ensure nice winter temperatures; a little under zero in the coastal areas and around -10 to -15 inland, which is perfect for exploring, playing and experiencing the winter landscape. 

Mild in the Gulf Stream

Værøy, in the middle of the Gulf Stream, is the northern-most point in the world where the average temperature does not fall below freezing point during all months of the year. Islands such as Vega, Træna, Myken and Litløy often enjoy temperatures of one to three degrees, whilst the rest of Northern Norway is frozen over for winter. You definitely can't count on going skiing at Røst every year either. Large parts of the Nordland coast, and also certain places in outer Troms and Vest-Finnmark, can be'abæra'- snow free - for much of the winter.

-51°C

However, Northern Norway definitely isn't lacking in paradoxes. The record for the coldest temperature in Karasjok at -51, and temperatures under -35 are recorded annually on Finnmarksvidda, in Indre Troms, and the area around Saltfjellet, Okstindan and Børgefjell south of the Polar circle. The average temperature lies between -8 and -18 here. These areas are assured of snow long before Christmas, and they have many clear starry nights and northern lights. The cold is a dry cold, and with the right clothing it can actually be enjoyable to be outside.

2.4 metres (7.9 feet) of snow

In the coastal and fjord areas in Northern Norway, it is rarely under -10, but there is often a lot of snow. The municipality has a snowplough running day and night, roads can be closed due to the risk of avalanche and the arches of snow from the snow plough decorate the residential areas. Tromsø's legendary winter of 1997 with 2.4 metres (7.9 feet) of snow was pretty difficult, but the people of Narvik were looking forward to the great conditions on their thousand-metre-high slalom slope.

Slippery

Along the coast it snows, rains and freezes in turn and the thermometers move up and down like yo-yos. It quickly becomes so slippery that the municipal gritting trucks cannot keep up, and upper femurs and wrists are in acute danger. Crampons, which can be purchased everywhere, are a lifesaver. A little bit of terminology here; if the ice on the streets is like a mirror, then we call it 'glarhålka' or 'speilhålka'. 'Blindhålka' is even worse, because that means there is a thin layer of treacherous snow covering this polished devilry.

Polar low pressure

Occasionally an extreme force is triggered when cold air from the North Pole flows out over the lukewarm Gulf stream. Suddenly it can blow up into a full storm, where the snow is thick and continuous, and the fishing boats ice up. Flights are redirected inland, the Hurtigruta (ferry) waits for the weather to subside and stops making ports of call, and barriers go down over the mountain roads. Meteorologists struggle to predict polar low pressure, so when it hits the only thing to do is stay snug inside with a cup of coffee; it soon passes. The stillness afterwards, with the snow drifts and snow covered windows, is eerily beautiful.

Hurricane force winds

The great weather systems in the Atlantic ocean occasionally sweep in over Northern Norway with hurricane force winds. In the fishing villages on the coast, the roofs have guy lines to withstand the wind. TV reporters are crouched down in the gusts on the pier at Bodø, thousands of people in Lofoten are without electricity and there are avalanches in Indre Helgeland. Aided by the hype of the extra news reports it appears dramatic, but the communities are back on their feet surprisingly quickly. After a chaotic storm day the flights are back on schedule the next morning.

Winter advice

  • Wrap up well; start with our article on clothing
  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast when you are going to be on the move in Northern Norway. Really, it is just a matter of asking someone, all northerners are up to date on this favourite topic of theirs at any given moment.
  • If a storm is coming just as you are going to take a flight or boat, you need to have patience. Employees have experienced this many times before and do a professional job in getting everyone off on their journey as soon as it is responsible. However in the meantime there could be a lot of waiting.
  • Take a look at airline tickets and insurance before you travel. If you have a connecting ticket for the return home, the airline will re-book the tickets for you after the cancellation and delays. If you do not have a connecting ticket you must ensure that your travel insurance covers a new ticket.
  • Driving is usually unproblematic. See here for some tips on winter driving.
  • Enjoy it! Many northerners think that winter is the best time of year!