Cold Spell Continues: Emergency Shelters Open All Day Today

An icy Reykjavík City Pond.

The City of Reykjavík has activated an emergency plan and will keep emergency shelters open around the clock today, Vísir reports. An unhoused man hopes that the city will continue keep emergency shelters open 24 hours a day for the duration of the cold spell, predicted to last ten more days at least. The cold weather is expected to have wide-ranging effects.

The unhoused hope for extended shelter

As reported by Iceland review earlier this week, temperatures in Iceland have hovered well below 0°C over the past week – and if weather forecasts prove accurate, temperatures are expected to drop even further this weekend and the next.

In response to the cold weather, the City of Reykjavík has decided to keep its emergency shelters open over the next 24 hours (the shelters are normally open from 5 PM to 10 AM). The city will then assess the situation, going forward, tomorrow. Speaking to Vísir, Heiða Björg Hilmisdóttir, Chair of Reykjavík City’s Welfare Council, stated that City of Reykjavík would be reviewing the possibility of expanding shelters:

“It’s our priority that no one is made to sleep outside or is turned away at night. If only there were more organisations like Samhjálp, Icelandic Church Aid, and the Icelandic Red Cross that were willing to help, that would be very helpful.”

Heiða pointed out that approximately 300 people had availed themselves of emergency shelters in the city this year, of which a hundred came from other municipalities. Other municipalities must get involved: “We’re learning, and we need to listen and evaluate and do as well as we can, but other municipalities besides Reykjavík need to involve themselves.”

Ragnar Erling Hermannsson, who has been unhoused for some time, hopes that emergency shelters will be kept open around the clock while the cold spell lasts:

“I’m going to see if they keep the shelters open around the clock beyond today,” Ragnar observed. “It makes you wonder if this is just some kind of showmanship by the city. In reality, they have a choice between two or three people dying today or keeping the shelters open while the cold lasts.”

A difficult time for small birds

Aside from the dangers that freezing temperatures pose to people, the cold spell also makes it difficult for small birds to find food and running water.

“It’s hard to find food in this frost,” Hólmfríður Arnarsdóttir, Director of BirdLife Iceland, told Vísir. “There are only a few hours a day of sunlight, so there is less time to look for food and more time that must be dedicated to keeping warm, i.e. the entirety of the night.”

Hólmfríður stated that it is extremely important for people to feed the birds and make sure that they get water while the cold weather persists: “It’s best to feed them twice a day: at dawn and at dusk.”

More pools to be closed?

On Tuesday, Rangárveitur, which manages the hot-water supply in three municipalities in South Iceland, published a press release to notify residents that the hot-water supply was nearing its limit. In light of the cold, the local authorities, on the advice of Veitur, decided to close three public pools in the area – in Hvolsvöllur, Hella, and Laugaland.

The cold could also affect swimming pools in the capital area. Steinthór Einarsson, Director of Operations and Services at ÍTR (Sports and Outdoor Activities), told Vísir yesterday that three public pools may need to be closed:

“There are three pools, Vesturbæjarlaug (West Reykjavík), Sundhöllin (Downtown Reykjavík), and Dalslaug (Grafarholt), which we may need to close due to the cold. I just received a message stating that they don’t need to be closed tomorrow (Friday, December 16), but we reassess every day. As there is a very cold forecast ahead, it’s impossible to say for certain.”

Public Encouraged to Count Birds This Weekend

Bird

This weekend marks BirdLife Iceland’s annual “Garden Birdwatch” where the public is encouraged to count and record the birds visible in their yards. The aim is to gather data on how various bird species in Iceland are faring while raising the public’s awareness of the environment.

A yearly effort

Today Friday, January 28, marks the beginning of the annual Birdwatch Weekend (lasting until Monday, January 31), which is sponsored by BirdLife Iceland. During the event, the public is encouraged to spend one hour observing and registering the species of bird visible in their yards (along with noting the most numerous species) before submitting their data online.

“We’re talking the annual Garden Birdwatch weekend,” Anna María Lind Geirsdóttir, publicity officer with BirdLife Iceland, stated in an interview with RÚV, noting that the event has been held in January since 2004.

According to Anna María, the purpose of the campaign is twofold: on the one hand, to raise awareness of the environment and nature, and, on the other hand, to monitor how particular bird species in Iceland are faring.

A more extensive survey

As noted on its website, BirdLife Iceland also promotes a more extensive survey that lasts the entire winter. This survey has been held since 1994. Seventy-four bird species have been seen in the survey since then. Redwing, snow bunting, raven, redpoll, common blackbird, and starling are the most common garden birds in Iceland.

“Of course, we’d like more people to participate in the big survey that is in effect all winter, but with these weekend campaigns, we’re hoping that people realise that participating takes very little effort,” Anna María added.