Evacuation Partially Recalled, Roads May Open Soon

Seyðisfjörður

The partial evacuation of two East Iceland villages–Neskaupstaður and Seyðisfjörður–has been recalled for the former, Austurfrétt reports. Some area roads are still impassable but may open later today.

High winds, heavy snow

As reported, high winds and heavy snow began moving into the region at the start of the weekend. These weather conditions, combined with the tall, steep mountains that East Iceland is famous for, can increase the danger of avalanches.

These two villages, like many other human settlements in East Iceland, rest at the foot of such mountains. For this reason, the neighbourhoods in these villages most in direct danger of an avalanche were evacuated on Saturday.

Roads may reopen today

While Möðrudalsöræfi, Fjarðarheiði and Vopnafjarðarheiði–heath areas with roads connecting coastal villages to the main highway–are still closed at the time of this writing, they may reopen this afternoon, weather permitting.

The current forecast for the region shows snow continuing through the day, but with winds calming down. Check the Met Office site and SafeTravel before venturing into the area.

Two Villages Evacuated Due to Avalanche Danger

avalanche neskaupstaður

The Icelandic Met Office has reported that North and East Iceland are in an “uncertainty phase”, and the East Iceland villages of Neskaupstaður and Seyðisfjörður in particular are in a “danger phase”, due to the chance for avalanches. As a result, parts of both of those villages have been evacuated until further notice.

High winds, heavy snow

The weather forecast predicted the presence of high winds and heavier snowfall moving into East Iceland over the weekend and, as reported, these weather conditions in areas with tall and steep mountains elevate the risk of avalanches. These topographical regions are most prevalent in two areas in particular in Iceland: the Westfjords, and East Iceland.

In addition to these villages being partly evacuated, Seyðisfjarðarvegur–which is the road that connects Seyðisfjörður to Egilsstaðir on Route 1–will also be closed due to the weather.

Alert to extend into evening

The weather is expected to worsen as the day progresses, but is also expected to clear up by Monday morning.

Those planning on traveling through this area during this period are strongly advised to forego those plans, and to check both the Met Office and SafeTravel for updates.

Ten Man-Made Avalanches Last Week

At least ten avalanches from March 28 to April 3 were caused by human activity, according to the Iceland Meteorological Office. In every case they were caused by skiers or snowmobile riders. No serious injuries occurred, but in four of the cases people were caught or buried in the avalanche, RÚV reports.

Necessary equipment for mountaineers

Erla Guðný Helgadóttir, an avalanche specialist with the Meteorological Office, said that people will understandably want to enjoy the outdoors when the weather is favourable. However, she warned that it’s important to look at avalanche forecasts before heading to the mountains. In such excursions, an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel should be brought along.

She added that mountaineers should attend avalanche seminars as anyone accompanying a person buried in snow should be the first responder on site.

Avalanches should be reported

Erla urged people to report any avalanche they spot, as such reports are important for research purposes. This applies for avalanches due to natural causes and artificial causes. Even if people cause the avalanche themselves, they should not hesitate to report. Such reports can be emailed to [email protected] or registered on the Iceland Meteorological Office website.

Avalanche Warning in the Westfjords

The Icelandic Met Office has issued an orange warning, the second highest rating, for the Westfjords due to weather conditions that include the danger of avalanches.

A yellow warning is currently in effect for the entire northwest quadrant of Iceland due to high winds and snowfall. In the Westfjords, winds ranging from 15 to 23 metres per second are expected, along with heavy snowfall. Those winds are expected to intensify over the night.

Heavy snowfall and high winds over an area characterised by tall and steep mountains has the combined effect of all the conditions for an avalanche, and the Met Office has issued an avalanche warning for the northern portion of the Westfjords.

Mercifully, it is not believed that these avalanches will reach near any human settlements, although that may change. Roads may find themselves suddenly cut off due to avalanches, and given the forecast weather conditions, rescuing anyone trapped on the roads in an avalanche would be very challenging.

As with any orange warning, it is strongly advised that any travel plans in the area during this time are cancelled. Conditions are expected to clear come Tuesday but, as is often the case with weather in Iceland, this too may be subject to change.

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.

Aid Station Opens in Neskaupstaður Following Avalanches

neskaupstaður avalanche

An aid station will be opening today, April 3, for the residents of Neskaupstaður and surrounding settlements that have been affected by the recent avalanches.

Some 850 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes since the first avalanches on the morning of March 27, making it one of the largest evacuations in Icelandic history. It has also been one of the largest ICE-SAR operations in Icelandic history, with some 300 members present at the height of rescue operations. Many residents have since returned, with The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management asking the returning residents to make use of the aid station.

Read more: Evacuations in Three Additional East Fjord Towns

Government ministers also made a trip out to the affected region over the weekend, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

The ministers met with municipal representatives to survey the progress of the operations and discuss future prevention measures.

Almannavarnir ICE-SAR
ICE-SAR teams at Egilsstaðir Airport – Almannavarnir

Katrín stated to RÚV: “It is a great relief that it was not worse and no one died in these avalanches. That’s the most important thing, but at the same time, the damage is extensive and it is shocking to see the effects of the avalanches. It is extremely important to provide strong support now.”

She stated further: “I understand that the municipal authorities are putting a lot of emphasis on speeding it up as much as possible. What faces us ministers who are here is to review these plans and investigate what can be done to accelerate this project even further.”

Read more: East Iceland Residents Warned of Heavy Rain and Runoff

In addition to the aid stations, Red Cross in Iceland will also be offering psychological services to affected residents.

The coast guard vessel, Þór, is also set to leave the area today. Dispatched on March 27, its crew has had a busy week assisting rescue operations. It was the first time Þór was dispatched in this capacity. In total, Þór left the capital region with a total complement of 40, including a crew of 20 and 20 members of ICE-SAR and the Reykjavík Fire Department.

Evacuations in Three Additional East Fjords Towns

East Iceland March 2023

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has issued evacuation orders for parts of Eskifjörður, Stöðvarfjörður, and Fáskrúðsfjörður, three towns in the East Fjords region, due to the risk of slush floods. Evacuation orders remain in effect for nearby Neskaupstaður and Seyðisfjörður. Several avalanches have fallen in Neskaupstaður this week, and heavy precipitation is falling in the region today, increasing the risk of extreme thawing and heavy runoff.

Most roads in the East Fjords region are closed due to avalanche risk and weather conditions. RÚV reports that water is flooding over the road through Berufjörður fjord, in the southern part of East Iceland. Roads in the region are expected to remain closed for the time being.

The Civil Protection Department met at 11:00 AM this morning when it decided to issue the additional evacuation orders. Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson stated that the evacuations were precautionary and “not extensive.” They were issued based on known waterways that could swell suddenly due to extreme thaw and runoff as is expected tonight.

Residents of East Iceland are asked to monitor notifications from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management as well as East Iceland Police, the Icelandic Met Office, and road.is.

East Iceland Residents Warned of Heavy Rain and Runoff

East Iceland March 2023

Residents of East Iceland are encouraged to clear their rain gutters in preparation for heavy rain and rising temperatures today. An orange weather alert is in effect for the East Fjords region today, where hundreds of residents remain evacuated from their homes due to avalanche risk. Several avalanches have hit the East Fjords town of Neskaupsstaður this week, causing property damage but no serious injuries.

The Icelandic Met Office warned that rising temperatures may lead to extreme thawing and increased runoff in East Iceland, as well as rising water levels in rivers and streams. Heavy snow and blowing snow are expected in the region as well, particularly in the northern part. The orange weather alert is in effect until 9:00 AM tomorrow morning, with a yellow weather alert on its heels lasting throughout Friday.

Most East Fjords roads closed

East Iceland Police wrote this morning that they were considering opening the road between Neskaupstaður and Eskifjörður through Fannardalur as well as the road connecting Egilsstaðir and Reyðarfjörður through Fagradalur. Both of these roads are currently closed due to risk of avalanches, as are most roads between Egilsstaðir and Höfn.

Residents are asked to monitor notifications from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management as well as East Iceland Police, the Icelandic Met Office, and road.is.

Small Avalanche Falls in Neskaupstaður

ICE-SAR

Another avalanche fell above the town of Neskaupstaður in East Iceland shortly after noon today, Mbl.is reports. The avalanche, which was relatively small, did not reach the town’s protective barriers. In an announcement published today, the East Iceland Police stated that evacuation orders would remain in effect.

Three avalanches, evacuation orders come into effect

After three avalanches struck Neskaupstaður on the night of March 26, and the early morning of March 27, evacuation orders for Neskaupstaður, Seyðisfjörður, and Eskiförður – all located in Iceland’s East Fjords – came into effect. No serious injuries were sustained.

Evacuation orders were lifted for some of the houses in the area yesterday.

As reported by Mbl.is, however, another small avalanche fell above Neskaupstaður shortly after noon today. Rescue workers and reporters were inside the evacuated area and witnessed the avalanche falling firsthand.

Following a meeting of operations control in East Iceland with representatives of the Icelandic MET Office this morning, the East Iceland Police announced that evacuation orders would remain in effect. The authorities are also considering whether to reinstate evacuation orders previously lifted for select areas.

As noted in the announcement, the weather forecast predicts that snowfall will be followed by rain, which may be followed by sleet and possible slush floods. Given the possibility of slush floods, among other things, the police, in collaboration with local authorities, are drawing up plans.

For further information, residents are encouraged to exercise caution and to view evacuation charts on the website of the MET Office: Eskifjörður, Neskaupstaður, Seyðisfjörður.

Risk of Further Avalanches in East Fjords

avalanche neskaupstaður

Evacuation orders for areas of Neskaupstaður, Seyðisfjörður, and Eskiförður, all located in Iceland’s East Fjords, will remain in effect until tomorrow due to the ongoing risk of avalanches. Three avalanches fell in Neskaupstaður during the night and early morning of March 26-27. No serious injuries have been sustained.

Some 500 residents of the three towns have been evacuated from their homes due to the ongoing risk, although the Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department announced this morning that some Neskaupstaður residents could return home today. The emergency phase declared by the Civil Protection Department yesterday has been lowered to an alert phase.

Stormy weather may impact the lifting of evacuation orders. A yellow weather warning has been issued for Southeast Iceland on Wednesday morning that may increase the risk of avalanche in the East Fjords.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV she planned to visit the affected area at the first opportunity. Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson and Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannesson both stated the avalanches in Neskaupstaður gave reason to review avalanche barrier infrastructure in the East Fjords.

Read more about avalanche barriers in Iceland.