Rapid melting of extraordinary snow loads threatens Finnish Lapland, communities brace for worst floods in 50 years

Rapid melting of extraordinary snow loads threatens Finnish Lapland, communities brace for worst floods in 50 years

Rapid melting of extraordinary snow loads -- the most in 60 years -- in Northern Finland is threatening communities across Lapland who are now are bracing for spring floods that could reach their highest peak in 50 years this week. Up to 5 m (16 feet) surges threaten to cause river breaches, affecting several towns, including Ivalo, Kemijarvi, Kittila, Pello, Rovaniemi, and Tornio.

While spring flood is considered a normal and natural occurrence, particularly in Lapland, this year's issue will be the record snow, according to hydrologist Bertel Vehvilainen at the Finnish Environmental Institute Syke.

Rivers have been increasing for the past few days as heatwave caused snow to rapidly melt. The meltwater comes after Lapland's snowiest winter in 60 years.

Flood warnings have been in place for many areas near the Kemijoki and Ounasjoki rivers as officials also try to safeguard property and infrastructure. Damage warnings are in place for Rovaniemi and Kittila.

"In Kemijarvi itself we are only preparing to protect the buildings if something bad will happen but now it seems like Kemijarvi is in a good situation," said Jukka Kuisma, head of municipal technology.

In the north of Lapland, there is still about 40 cm (16 inches) of snow, in some places more, and now the weather is hotter. In Kemijarvi, we are working with the water levels because the hydropower station can control the water in the lake," he continued.

The Tornionjoki river with a large northern catchment area is likely to hit its flood peak by mid-June, the same time as the Tenojoki river, which worsens the flood risks along the path of the waterways.

"At the moment, the melting looks like it will cause a near-record flood, of course, it depends how the melting is happening but now it is melting really fast," Vehvilainen explained.

"We are talking about flood risks to towns and summer cottages which are all over in the forest and marshlands."

In Rovaniemi, the biggest area in Finnish Lapland, flooding is expected to surpass the damage limit or reach the level of the 1993 flood, the country's Center for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY) informed. 

In Kittilla, flooding is expected to rise to the same level as the 2005 flood.

The flow is estimated to exceed 1 000 m3/s in Kittila and 4 000 - 4 200 m3/s in Rovaniemi.

"The current flood and the rising water is very stressing to all people living on the banks of the river," said mayor Ulla-Kirsikka Vainio. ELY Center added that water levels will rise about 1.5 to 2 m (5 to 7 feet) from the present level.

Preparations are underway for city-owned properties and establishments, as well as landmarks like the Arctic Center Museum. Officials are also preparing to accommodate locals who get inundated out of their residences as floods are expected to peak this week.

Featured image credit: City of Rovaniemi

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