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.

Snow-Covered Road in East Iceland Takes Four Days to Clear For the Summer

Summer may have officially started in Iceland on April 23, but you definitely couldn’t tell from the weather in Mjóifjörður, East Iceland, where authorities just spent four days digging a traversable roadway through snow walls of up to five meters [16 ft] in height. RÚV reports that the road into the village there has been more or less closed since October.

Photo courtesy of Vegagerðin

Fourteen people live in Brekkuþorp in Mjóifjörður year-round (up to 40 during the summer), and the village has its own church, school, tourist office, post service, and coffeehouse. Fishing and aquaculture are also local industries. There is only one road into the fjord, however, and given the immense amount of snowfall that it regularly receives, it is only possible to reach the village by sea during the winter.

“We started to dig out [the road] last Friday,” remarked Ari B. Guðmundsson, chief engineer at the Reyðarfjörður branch of the Icelandic Road Administration last Wednesday. “We continued on Monday and around the middle of today, Wednesday, we’d paved a narrow [one-way] path with lay-bys the whole way.”

Photo courtesy of Vegagerðin

The Road Administration has ploughed the road twice since the beginning October: once in mid-October in order to allow Neyðarlínan, the company that manages Iceland’s emergency number [112] to lay fibre optic cables into the fjord, and then again at the end of November so that the equipment could be transported back out of the village.

Snowfall on the roadway has been unusually plentiful in recent years, and considerably more than was once typical. For the time being, only 4×4 vehicles should attempt to use the road, although smaller cars will be allowed after the weekend. The Road Administration will be using snow blowers over the weekend to widen the road for easier passage.

Local Man Clears Road Ensuring Mates Can Fly Abroad

winter tires reykjavík

Hoping to aid his friends and colleagues escape the harsh Icelandic winter, Finnur Aðalbjörnsson refused to let an impassable road stand in his way, Vísir reports. A storm has battered many parts of Iceland recently.

Independent People

When it became evident that his friends and colleagues would be unable to leave Akureyri for Keflavík Airport on Wednesday – as the road through Öxnadalsheiði had become impassable – local man Finnur Aðalbjörnsson decided to clear the way himself. Operating a four-hundred horsepower Fendt tractor equipped with a snowblower, Finnur left home at 6 pm Wednesday afternoon. His friends followed in four cars. Some of them were headed to Birmingham; others planned to attend the 2020 European Men’s Handball Championship.

No Stranger to Snow

No stranger to snow, Finnur is the owner of an eponymous contracting company that rents out machinery and regularly clears snow. Wanting to help his friends and employees, he contacted the Public Roads Administration. His plan was well received. Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Sigurður Jónsson, Head Supervisor at the Public Roads Administration in Akureyri, maintains that this is the first time that such a request has been made.

According to Finnur, conditions on Öxnadalsheiði were as bad they had ever been, with plenty of hardened snow.

“I know the guys who clear the road, but they had been told to suspend their efforts owing to the bad weather. I spoke to them, of course, too; I didn’t want to inconvenience them or the Public Roads Administration. They were fine with it,” Finnur stated.

Come One, Come All

Despite challenging conditions, clearing the road went well. Before long, the number of cars following in Finnur’s wake had multiplied significantly. When he finally made it across the mountain road, he observed a caravan of 23 cars behind him.

“I had only planned on helping those four cars across, you know,” Finnur said.

It took Finnur roughly four and a half hours to traverse the road the first time. He turned around in Skagafjörður and seven cars followed him back north.

“The drive back was much quicker, as I had already cleared the road once. Even though the road had once again become snowed in, the snow was much lighter the second time.”

(Click here to see a video that Hrólfur Arnar Sumarliðason captured, following in Finnur’s tracks.)

Leave No Man Behind

According to Finnur, most of the cars that followed him were well equipped to handle conditions on the road. There was, however, a slight problem with one car: a two-wheel drive vehicle that accompanied him on the way back.

“He kept getting stuck, even though I had already cleared the road. He couldn’t see and kept going off track. We needed to assist him many times along the way. We couldn’t leave him, of course.”

Nine Hours Later

Finnur estimates that he arrived to Akureyri at roughly 3 am Thursday morning, nine hours after leaving home. Asked whether he could imagine clearing the road again, Finnur responded in the affirmative:

“Yes, yes, yes. A little adventure is always good, man. Nobody wants to sit home and watch TV or DVDs every night. That kind of things becomes tiresome.”

RÚV broke the story yesterday.