Iceland Weather: Storms, Road Closures, and Avalanche Risk

winter tires reykjavík

Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) is currently closed over Öxnadalsheiði heath, between Akureyri and Reykjavík, due to weather. Yellow weather warnings have also been issued across much of the country today due to strong winds. The Icelandic Met Office declared an “uncertainty phase” in the East Fjords this morning due to the risk of avalanches.

Seyðisfjörður alavanche risk

There was heavy precipitation in Seyðisfjörður last night, with continuing precipitation at higher elevations and a strong E-ENE wind in the mountains, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office. Precipitation should slow throughout the day, and the wind speed is expected to slow and change direction to a northerly. Experts are monitoring conditions closely.

Strong winds and blowing snow

Gale-force winds are expected today across much of Iceland, including the Westfjords, West, North, East, and Southeast. Wind speeds in these areas could reach speeds of 20 metres per second. Blowing snow is in the forecast for most of these regions as well. Poor driving conditions can be expected as a result of weather, as well as traffic disruptions and road closures.

Travellers and affected residents are encouraged to monitor weather and road conditions before setting out.

Risk of Avalanche in Patreksfjörður and Ísafjörður

A danger phase is in effect in the towns of Patreksfjörður and Ísafjörður, in the Westfjords, due to the risk of avalanches. RÚV reports that some industrial buildings in Ísafjörður have been evacuated as well as some residential buildings in Patreksfjörður. Two farms in the northern Westfjords have also been evacuated due to the risk. Extreme weather has hit the region and blizzards and strong winds are expected to continue into tomorrow.

Read More: Avalanche Risk in the Westfjords and North Iceland

Avalanches fell in Skutulsfjörður, Álftafjörður, and Önundafjörður in the Northern Westfjords over last weekend. An avalanche fell on the barriers above Patreksfjörður last night. Avalanche expert Magni Hreinn Jónsson says more precipitation is expected in the region.

Travellers are asked to show caution and monitor road conditions on road.is.

Avalanche Risk in Westfjords and North Iceland

An uncertainty phase is in effect in the Westfjords and central North Iceland due to risk of avalanches. Some avalanches are expected to fall on roads in the coming days, but residential areas should be relatively safe from the danger. Multiple avalanches have fallen in the northern Westfjords and North Iceland’s Tröllaskagi peninsula late last week and considerable new snow and snowdrift is expected in the forecast.

Avalanches fell in Skutulsfjörður, Álftafjörður, and Önundafjörður in the Northern Westfjords two days ago. On the Tröllaskagi peninsula, several large avalanches fell onto Ólafsfjarðarvegur road. Some roads have been closed due to the avalanche risk, as well as the storm front that is travelling eastward across Iceland today.

Pilot Program Could Increase Access to Westfjords Over Winter

There will be increased snow plowing on Strandavegur, a coastal road that runs through the Westfjords municipality of Árneshreppur, from January to March. Per a press release issued by the government on Thursday, snow will be removed twice a week, weather conditions permitting. This pilot project is a collaboration between the Icelandic Regional Development Institute, the Westfjords Regional Development Office, and the municipality itself, and is part of the Fragile Settlements initiative, which aims to strengthen select rural communities throughout the country.

Golli

Strandavegur is an 80-km [50 mi] road that runs along the coast from Bjarnafjörður to Norðurfjörður. Much of the road runs through an area known for avalanches during the winter. Adding the fact that the road is not in terribly good shape, this generally means that authorities are frequently unable to remove snow on Strandavegur or keep it open in the winter. Limited reception also means that it’s more dangerous for employees and travellers to use this route during difficult weather.

If successful, the pilot program could have a significant impact, allowing increased access to a region popular with travellers but largely inaccessible for much of the year. The Westfjords are, perhaps, on even more tourists’ bucket lists these days: in November, Lonely Planet named it one of its top ten regions to visit in 2022.

Snow removal on Strandavegur will be handled by locals and the Icelandic Road Administration, which will maintain the twice-a-week schedule provided that there is no risk of avalanche and that weather conditions will not put employees at risk. The Road Administration will finance the pilot project with an eye to determining whether it will be possible to continue winter snow clearance along the seaside road throughout the winter and if so, how it can be done in a safe manner on a long-term basis.

Avalanches, Landslides, and Slush Floods in East Iceland

Seyðisfjörður

A state of uncertainty has been declared in East Iceland due to the ongoing danger of avalanches and landslides. It rained heavily in the region yesterday and avalanches, slush floods, and rockfalls were reported in a dozen areas spanning from Höfn in Southeast Iceland to Borgarfjörður eystri in the country’s northeast. The events have led to property damage and damaged a power line, but no injuries have been reported.

The most precipitation yesterday was measured at Borgarfjörður eystri, or around 130 mm, while measurements were almost as high in Neskaupsstaður, Fáskrúðsfjörður, and Eskifjörður. In Seyðisfjörður, where devastating mudslides destroyed over a dozen buildings in December, rainfall measured 70mm. The rain has since let up. Weather will be warm and windy today and the risk of avalanches is ongoing.

Three homes were evacuated in Seyðisfjörður last night, but the evacuation order has since been called off.

133 Avalanches in Iceland in Ten Days

avalanche

An unusually high number of avalanches has fallen across East Iceland, North Iceland, and the Westfjords in recent days, according to the Icelandic Met Office. The Office has received 133 reports of avalanches in the past 10 days, though the true number is likely higher. The Civil Protection Department has declared an uncertainty phase in the North Westfjords as well as North and East Iceland due to ongoing risk.

Most of the 133 reports are from the Westfjords (52) and Northeast Iceland (41) with the third-highest number being reported in the Eastfjords (24). “It is clear that many more avalanches have occurred without being recorded. Many floods fall off the beaten track, others hit without being seen, and not all avalanches are reported to the Met Office,” a blog post from the Met Office reads. Heavy snowfall across the aforementioned regions is, of course, the cause, and the snow blanketing the slopes is considered unstable. The Office reports that some avalanches have fallen in still weather.

Read More: Avalanche Barriers in Iceland

Avalanches have fallen on several roads across the country, leading to closures while snow is cleared. The Road and Coastal Administration notifies travellers of road closures across the country while the Met Office reports on avalanche risk.

No people have been injured as a result of the events, though one recent avalanche in Skagafjörður killed at least three horses and destroyed a shed. One avalanche on the Skarðsdalur skiing grounds in North Iceland caused significant damage to the facilities. A third near Eskifjörður, East Iceland, damaged a shooting range and appears to have damaged facilities in the area as well.

Homes Evacuated Due to Avalanche Risk

Buildings in two Westfjords towns have been evacuated due to avalanche risk, the Icelandic Met Office reports. Severe weather in the region and heavy snowfall on the mountains led to the decision to evacuate homes and other buildings in the towns of Flateyri and Patreksfjörður and nearby areas. The Icelandic Met Office is monitoring the situation closely in consultation with the Department of Civil Protection.

Recent Flateyri avalanches

Two avalanches fell in the town of Flateyri this past January. While no serious injuries were sustained, the town’s harbour was decimated and many fishing boats destroyed. Three avalanches fell outside the town in late February as well. This year marks the 25th anniversary of two fatal avalanches in Flateyri and nearby Súðavík.

Blizzard in Northwest Iceland throughout today

A Northeasterly blizzard is currently underway in the Westfjords and Northwest Iceland. Extreme weather conditions are expected to continue in the region until this evening. Considerable snowfall and gale-force winds are expected in the region, particularly in the Westfjords. The storm will move east this evening, affecting North Iceland.