Every day at 12:20 PM, Andras Marr Poulsen turns on the radio. Like many other in the Faroes, he always tunes in for the weather forecasts. If it mentions strong winds, his ears prick up. No matter where you live on the islands, it is important to know which way the wind will be blowing.
Poulsen lives in the capital, Tórshavn, and is an emergency coordinator at the Ministry of Fisheries.
“If I hear ‘westerly wind’, I know I need to get out into the garden and make sure no loose objects are lying about,” he says. “In Tórshavn, we barely notice a north wind, but the west wind hits our neighbourhood much more forcefully. Here in the Faroe Islands, you will often hear people talk about skaðaæettir, which means ‘a wind direction that does great damage’. Their effects differ depending on geography, too – a wind direction that does great damage in one area may be harmless in another. We Faroese are generally very interested in the weather because it has a huge impact on our day-to-day lives.”
Strong winds are nothing new in the Faroe Islands. The islands have always been windswept, and the people know how to respond when a storm hits.
“The Faroese know all about extreme weather," says Rico Kongsager, Associate Professor of Emergency and Risk Management at University College Copenhagen. “They are used to staying indoors during storms. They know their own area well and what to do. But they may not be fully prepared for the intensity of future storms, which will be more powerful than Faroese houses, roads and bridges were built to withstand. More extreme storm events will be happening more often, and the entire infrastructure will have to be adapted accordingly. A storm is not just a storm anymore.”
Kongsager is also project manager for Climate Change Resilience in Small Communities in the Nordic Countries (CliCNord), part of NordForsk’s research programme on societal security in the Nordic Region. Along with a group of researchers, and in close collaboration with the people of the Faroe Islands, including Andras Marr Poulsen, he will look at how the islands are preparing for future storms.
The focus will be on practical measures, such as where to place water pumps, how to secure rooftops, the best place to put storm pegs on houses, whether to use different building materials, etc. The study will also shed light on broader infrastructure issues, including roads, bridges and tunnels, the internet and water supply.
Dialogue with locals
The research team will work with a diverse group of local people, including politicians, associations, emergency workers and local residents. Together, they will develop initiatives to protect small, local areas against extreme weather events.
“It is difficult to deal with weather phenomena alone and without assistance. Many of those who live in more remote areas have a particularly strong sense of attachment to their homes, and moving away from the area is not a viable option. Instead, we will look at how they can build capacity so that they are prepared for the storms of the future. We are not trying to scare them, but to open up dialogue about how we can work together to improve disaster preparedness,” says Kongsager.
Andras Marr Poulsen welcomes the research project: “The other Nordic countries conduct risk assessments at national level. As far as I know, we have never done anything similar in the Faroe Islands, but it would be a good idea. This project may lead to that because it will provide us with evidence-based knowledge. For me, it is vital to learn more about weather conditions in the Faroe Islands, including probable storm scenarios, so that we can draw up contingency plans,” he says
Climate change is hitting the Nordic Region hard
For Kongsager, one of the goals of the project is enhanced preparedness. “First of all, we must acknowledge that we often talk about climate adaptation in terms of the tropical south. But it is becoming clear that we in the Nordic Region are also affected by climate change – and quite severely. The latest example is the landslide in Norway in early 2021. If we do not prepare properly, the impact of climate change on the Nordic countries could cost lives,” he adds.
One of the questions this raises is which areas of the Nordic Region will be habitable in the future. Kongsager believes that if we want to continue to live in the same places that we do today, the Nordic countries must adapt to the changing climate and take steps to protect people, including in more remote areas.
“What we are doing now is not enough. We need a far greater focus on preventive efforts because climate change is spreading to many peripheral areas that need to be protected. The local authorities and population cannot do that alone. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions may be expensive, but adapting to the effects of climate change costs far more,” he points out.
Small communities are particularly vulnerable
One focus area for CliCNord is that smaller communities are often forgotten when the Nordic countries introduce measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.
“Governments have started to identify the places that they wish to safeguard, but these are typically in slightly larger cities,” says Rico Kongsager. “Smaller communities are not included because there are often few people living in them, and they end up being left out of the equation.”
Contingency planning in the Faroe Islands
In the Faroe Islands, the local authorities are responsible for emergency preparedness on land. Unlike the other Nordic countries, there is no national emergency service. Instead, the local authorities’ emergency response is supplemented by a large number of volunteers, organised into 'salvage associations'. The Ministry of Fisheries is responsible for the Emergency Preparedness Act at national level and supervises local plans. It is also responsible for search-and-rescue operations in Faroese waters. Two inspection vessels and four smaller lifeboats are available for this purpose, and the Ministry also has a contract with a helicopter operator in the Faroe Islands.
About the CliCNord project
The project Climate Change Resilience in Small Communities in the Nordic Countries (CliCNord) will look at how small rural areas in selected parts of the Nordic Region cope with various extreme weather events. As well as storms in the Faroe Islands, researchers are conducting seven other studies:
#1 Denmark: Flooding
#2 Denmark: Cloudburst
#3 Sweden: Wildfires
#4 Sweden: Temperature extremes
#5 Norway: Landslides
#6 Norway: Flash floods
#7 Iceland: Avalanches