The Weather in Iceland: What to Expect and How to Read the Weather Report

A person walking a dog in a snowstorm.

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, you’ve probably heard that in addition to northern lights and the magical midnight sun, it’s also famous for unpredictable weather. Constantly keeping the Icelandic people on their toes, it can change directions in an instant, sometimes even going so far as to offer all four seasons in a single day. Despite this uncertainty, staying up to date with the forecast is an important part of keeping yourself safe and comfortable. It allows you to plan ahead for packing, and travel-wise prevents you from getting caught in potentially dangerous situations. The Icelandic Met Office forecast, available on their website and app, is the best place to check. It provides detailed and up-to-date information about the expected weather and alerts you to extreme conditions. Below, you will find everything you need to know about what you can expect from the weather in Iceland and how to read the weather report.

What’s the weather like in Iceland?

Generally, temperatures fluctuate between -10 °C [14 °F] and 20°C [68°F] over the year, with January being the coldest month and July the warmest. Storms, often accompanied by snow or rain, are frequent from September to March but far less common during summer. 

This is not to say that the weather in Iceland is all storms and rain that slaps you in the face. The fall and winter days can be quite beautiful, with clear skies and frosty ground or snow that falls calmly to the ground, and the spring and summer usually offer some exceptional days of sun and warmth as well. 

Given this unpredictability, it’s imperative for your safety and comfort that you check the weather forecast a few days before your trip and stay informed throughout it. The weather often catches people off guard, leaving them cold and uncomfortable, a situation that can easily be avoided by checking the forecast and dressing in the right clothes. Likewise, knowing when extreme weather is expected can spare you from getting yourself into a potentially dangerous situation, such as driving on a mountain road in a blinding snowstorm.

Weather alerts

The most important thing to know about the Icelandic weather report is how the colour-coded alert system works. Alerts are issued in cases of extreme weather and are a convenient way to quickly get the lay of the land. As mentioned above, snowstorms, rainstorms, and windstorms are common during fall and winter, and keeping an eye out for alerts is essential for your safety. They are less common during spring and summer, but we advise you to check for them nonetheless, especially if you’re driving around the country or going up to the Highland.

The alert system is simple and easy to understand. It has three colours, each representing a different severity level: yellow, orange, and red. You’ll see the warnings in the top right corner of the Icelandic Met Office homepage. There’s a small blue map of Iceland there which will display the different colours in correspondence with the weather in each part of the country – north, west, south, east, and the Highland. You can click on each section of the country to get more specific information about the issued warnings, what they entail and where they apply.

Screenshot of the weather alert map from the Icelandic MET Office, showing a yellow alert for wind.
Screenshot of the weather alert map from the Icelandic MET Office, showing a yellow alert for wind.

A yellow alert is the least extreme, and although it probably won’t be pleasant to spend the day outside, you can usually go about your business uninterrupted. Just be mindful of wind gusts and things that might be blowing around. If you had a hike planned, you should postpone it to another day, as the weather is usually more extreme in the mountains. You should also be extra careful driving around, especially in the countryside. Wind gusts can easily catch you off guard if you’re not prepared for them, leading to accidents. 

An orange alert means that the weather can be dangerous, and people are advised not to take unnecessary trips outside. A red alert is the most extreme, indicating a level of emergency. It’s relatively uncommon that a red alert is issued, but in case you encounter one while you’re here, prepare to kick back and have a cosy day inside. You should only leave the house in case of emergencies.

For all stages of alerts, it’s important to be mindful of your surroundings and take caution when moving around, both on foot and in a car. If you’re staying in a home with a patio, balcony, or garden, and there is any furniture or other loose items, secure them so they won’t blow away. You could, for example, move the items inside or stack them in a sheltered corner. Any level of alert could result in cancelled trips, delays in transportation, and closed roads. 

If the map in the upper right corner is entirely blue, there is no warning, and you can proceed with your plans uninterrupted. 

The classic weather map

To get a closer look at the weather, you can check out the map labelled ‘whole country’. It’s a classic weather report map using sun and cloud symbols to display the expected weather – sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy. Temperature is shown in Celsius beside the symbols, with a red number if it’s above freezing and a blue one if it’s below. Wind predictions are displayed as meters per second, with an arrow indicating the wind direction. Both the number and the arrows are black.

Screenshot of the classic weather map from the Icelandic MET Office.
Screenshot of the classic weather map from the Icelandic MET Office.

 

Use the sliding bar below the map to move back and forth in time, and click on the map to zoom in. Doing so will also give you more locations to look at. By hovering over a sun/cloud symbol, you’ll get basic written information about the weather in that location, and by clicking on it, a six-day forecast for the area will appear below the map.

In-depth weather report

In addition to the typical forecast map, you can find separate maps for temperature, wind, and precipitation predictions. These are colour-coded and more specific than the all-in-one map. 

The wind map shows the expected wind at 10 metres [33 feet] height. The arrows across the map indicate the direction of the wind, and the colours indicate speed. Green tones represent a wind speed of 0-8 metres per second, blue tones 8-16, purple tones 16-24, and red tones anything above that.

The temperature map shows the expected temperature at two metres [6.6 feet] height. The lowest temperatures are shown in green tones, each tone representing 2°C temperature intervals. As the heat increases, the colour tones will change to blue, yellow, orange, and red, with red representing the highest temperatures. 

 

Screenshot of the temperature map from the Icelandic MET Office.
Screenshot of the temperature map from the Icelandic MET Office.

The precipitation map shows the cumulative precipitation levels over a 1-hour, 3-hour or 6-hour period. The colours range from light yellow, indicating light precipitation of 0.1 mm [0.004 inches] per hour, to red, indicating heavy precipitation of 50 mm [2 inches] per hour. The map will also show you the direction and speed of the wind with wind barbs, the point of which will tell you the direction of the wind. Diagonal lines at the end of the barb symbolise wind speed. An increase in the length and number of lines means stronger winds. If the wind reaches 25 m/s, a triangle will be at the barb’s end. The lines across the map indicate mean sea level pressure.

 

The wind, temperature, and precipitation maps all have the same sliding bar function as the basic map, but you cannot zoom in on it or choose specific locations. 

Weather Warnings Throughout Iceland Today

meteorological office iceland

A state of uncertainty has been declared over the expected storms today, January 30.

Yellow and Orange weather advisories are in effect for much of the nation, and experts expect conditions to worsen significantly after noon today.

Wind speeds are expected between 15 to 30 m/s [34 to 67 mph].

In light of the conditions, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has declared a state of uncertainty. Disruptions to traffic throughout Iceland are also expected. Residents are advised not to travel until tomorrow, especially in areas under the orange warning, including South Iceland, the Westfjords, the Faxaflói Bay, and Southeast Iceland.

In a statement to Vísir, Einar Sveinbjörnsson, a meteorologist for the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, said: “From noon and on we expect it to really start howling, with weather conditions quickly worsening after noon. It’s an easterly wind, so we expect it to be especially windy in the south, by Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull, but as of now we are still unsure about the precipitation, whether it will rain or snow.”

He further stated: “It’s the kind of storm that passes, and by evening it will largely subside, though not completely because the wind direction will change and the weather will be different tomorrow night.”

Travellers can expect road closures throughout the country. Given conditions, closures are considered likely on Hellisheiði, an important stretch of Route 1 connecting the capital region and South Iceland.

Flights Cancelled, Passengers Unable to Disembark Due to High Winds

Gale-force winds and heavy snowshowers caused considerable disruptions for travellers on Sunday, Mbl.is and RÚV report. While most international flights were cancelled or delayed before they departed, however, eight flights from North America were already en route to Keflavík when the weather took a turn for the worst. The unfortunate passengers on seven of these flights were stuck in their planes for six or more hours, as it was too windy to use jet bridges for disembarkation.

On Sunday, the Met Office issued an orange warning for the west and southwest of Iceland, which experienced winds of 18-28 m/s [40-62 mph]; a yellow warning was issued for the rest of the country, where winds gusted at an ever-so-slightly calmer 18-25 m/s [40-55 mph].

Search and Rescue teams used a bus and another large vehicle to shelter an external stairway from the wind. Image via Lögreglan á Suðurnesjum, FB

Eight hundred passengers stranded in planes on runway

Eight airplanes transporting close to 800 passengers from North America landed at Keflavík on Sunday morning around 6:00 am. One of these planes, arriving from Newark, New Jersey, was able to disembark without issue. The other seven were not so lucky. The wind picked up and became too strong to allow for the use of jet bridges. Search and Rescue teams were called in to assist with the disembarking process.

As of 1:00 pm, only one plane’s passengers had been able to exit their aircraft. Search and Rescue teams managed to successfully evacuate the flight, which had flown in from Miami, Florida, by rolling an external stairway up to the pane, sheltering it from the wind with large vehicles, and rigging up a rope system to help passengers keep their balance as they went out into the frosty gusts.

At time of writing, Search and Rescue teams were still working diligently to evacuate the remaining airplanes, and do so as safely as possible.

Twenty Rescued from Ski Lift in High Winds

Twenty people were rescued from a chairlift at the Hlíðarfjall ski area outside Akureyri on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports. The lift stalled when the wire was blown off its spool by a strong blast of wind, stranding about 20 people mid-air for close to two hours. Luckily, the area’s Search and Rescue crew was able to get everyone to safety and no one was injured in the process.

Weather conditions are assessed at ski areas every day to determine if it’s safe to open. But while conditions weren’t ideal at Hlíðarfjall on Friday, the wind wasn’t initially so strong that it was thought unsafe to ski and snowboard. By the afternoon, however, the weather had taken a turn for the worse.

From noon, the wind started to pick up again, and it was decided to stop letting people in the lift at 12:30,” explained a post on the Hlíðarfjall Facebook page. “There were still 21 people on the lift. Our chairlifts have built-in wind protection that slows down and stops the lift at certain wind speeds. An attempt was made to drive the lift slowly backwards in the hope of evacuating it, but as the wind continued to increase, it did not work and the lift came to a complete stop.

The Súlur Search and Rescue team used special equipment to rescue those who had been stranded on the chairlift in high winds. Image via the Hlíðarfjall Akureyri Facebook page.

It was then that Search and Rescue and police were called, explained Hlíðarfjall director Brynjar Helgi Ásgeirson. Ski area staff regularly train in ski lift rescues, but the wind, which had reached 20 m/s [44.7 mph], made the process much more difficult.

Luckily, everyone on the lift was back on the ground within two hours of it stopping. Australian Andrew Davis was one of those rescued from the lift. He told reporters that everyone who was stuck kept calm, and no one seemed to be in too bad a shape, though the wind was battering them about.

Andrew said he did consider jumping from the lift, as he was confident he could have stuck the landing. But in the end, he decided to wait it out, and saluted the Search and Rescue team for their fast work. Two 13-year-old girls were also amongst the stranded, but Bynjar Helgi said they were “quite upbeat” when they made it back to the ground.

After the rescue, those who had been stranded were offered trauma counselling, although no one chose to take it. What everyone did want, however, was the hot chocolate that ski area staff had waiting for them. “After a short while and some hot cocoa, people were smiling and putting this down to experience,” said Brynjar Helgi.

Hlíðarfjall was closed on Saturday due to unsafe weather conditions. To check current conditions and look at the area’s web cams (in English), see the Hlíðarfjall website, here.

Winter Weather Wreaks Havoc

Snowstorms in south and southwest Iceland wreaked havoc on Saturday, leading to road closures, the opening of additional emergency centres, dozens of calls to ICE-SAR to rescue people from cars stranded on roadways, and flight disruptions, RÚV reports.

See Also: It’s Going to Be a White Christmas

Roads around south and southwest Iceland—including the pass over Hellisheði and Mosfellsheiði heaths, Þrengsli, and around Kjalarnes peninsula—closed on Saturday, with teams struggling in low visibility and dense snow to clear a path, even as abandoned cars on the roadway slowed the process considerably.

“Yes, there’s been plenty to do,” said ICE-SAR’s information officer Jón Þór Víglundsson. “Not long ago, there were reports of cars on Mosfellsheiði and rescue teams were called out to deal with it. There were as many as 15 cars. Right as they were getting there, we got news of cars on Kjósskárðsvegur that were in trouble. So this is basically the situation in the southwest, from Borgarfjörður to east of Selfoss. People are finding themselves in trouble.”

Indeed, roads in and around Selfoss were impassable after a night and morning of heavy snow and Grétar Einarsson, foreman of the Icelandic Road Administration in Selfoss, also noted that cars that had gotten stuck on roadways were slowing the clearing process significantly—as were vehicles following directly behind the snowplows as the roads were being cleared.

But while he urged people to stay inside until roads had been sufficiently cleared, Grétar remained jolly. “People asked for Christmas snow and their prayers were clearly answered!”

Most rescue call-outs in Grindavík

Rescue teams responded to dozens of calls all over the country, but the most calls came from around the town of Grindavík, located on the southern coast of the Reykjanes peninsula.

“We’ve got snow accumulation, wind, sleet, driving snow, hailstorms, some thunder—it just doesn’t quit,” said Bogi Adolfsson, who leads the Þorbjörn Search and Rescue team in Grindavík. The team’s main challenge on Saturday was helping people were stuck on Rte. 43, also called Grindavíkurvegur, which closed that morning and stranded a number of people, mostly foreign tourists, who were trying to make their way back to the capital. The Red Cross opened an aid station in the afternoon to provide shelter for those who’d been rescued.

Shortly after noon on Saturday, there were a reported 40 cars stuck on Grindavíkurvegur, many of which were driven by tourists hoping to go to the Blue Lagoon. “A number of tourists have plans and there’s a steady stream of people headed toward the Blue Lagoon,” said Gríndavík detective superintendent Ásmundur Rúnar Gylfason. “They’ve just decided that they’ve got to go to the Blue Lagoon.” Many people en route to the popular destination were not aware of the road closure, and so police and rescue teams were stationed at the intersection with Reykjanesbraut to turn them away, but that caused traffic snares as well.

Further east along the southern coast, in Þorlákshöfn, about a dozen people spent much of the day at the emergency centre that had been opened in the primary school. Many of these individuals had had to spend the night there. “These are people who ICE-SAR rescued from their cars and brought here,” said school principal Ólína Þorleifsdóttir, who said they tried to make those who were stranded comfortable with blankets, bread, cookies, and coffee.

Flight disruptions

Snow accumulation on the runway at Keflavík necessitated the airport closing temporarily for both departures and landings. All flights to Europe were delayed due to weather on Saturday morning, some for upwards of four hours. A flight from Stockholm, Sweden had to land amidst lightning during the latter half of the day.

Both Icelandair flights from Reykjavík to Ísafjörður in the Westfjords had to be cancelled on Saturday, as did the first flight from the capital to Egilsstaðir in East Iceland. Flights from Reykjavík to Akureyri in North Iceland were delayed and one long-delayed flight from Akureyri to Reykjavík took off five hours after it was scheduled, only to be forced to return to Akureyri half-way to the capital due to weather conditions.

As of 7:00 PM, Icelandair had cancelled all flights until the morning, that is, 11 flights to North America, a flight to London Gatwick, and another to Copenhagen. All foreign passengers and those on connecting flights were put up in hotels at the airline’s expense. Icelandair PR representative Ásdís Ýr Pétursdóttir said delays could be expected when flights resumed.

This article was updated.

Flooding in Akureyri, Storms Hit North and East Iceland Over Weekend

storms iceland 2022

Storms over the weekend have left much of Akureyri flooded. Streets affected include Norðurgata, Gránufélagsgata, and Eiðsvallagata.

The flooding followed bad storms which shook much of Iceland over the weekend, leaving considerable property damage in their wake.

In a public statement on Facebook, the North Iceland police force have asked residents to not travel unnecessarily, and to not drive in the streets.

Much of the country was under yellow and orange weather warnings over the weekend, with especially bad conditions in the east and southeast. The East Fjords were under a rare red weather warning, with recorded wind speeds up to 64m/s (143 mph).

In a statement to Morgunblaðið, chairman of the regional board of rescue teams in East Iceland Sveinn Halldór Zoëga said he “doesn’t remember such extensive damage.” In the east, Seyðisfjörður and Reyðarfjörður were hit especially hard, with dramatic photos of the damage being shared on social media.

Search and rescue teams were busy, with Sveinn reporting some 50 calls near Seyðisfjörður and Reyðarfjörður. In total, some 200 search and rescue calls went out over the weekend, with 350 volunteers at work. Although extensive property damage was reported, no one is reported to have been injured in the storms.