Unusually Dry Summer in West and Southeast Iceland

Stykkishólmur - Stykkishólmshöfn - Breiðafjörður - Snæfellsnes

Rivers and streams have been shrinking and even drying up entirely following several weeks with little to no rainfall in Iceland. In Stykkishólmur, West Iceland, where measurements stretch back to 1857, last July was the second-driest one on record. In West and Southwest Iceland, rainfall has been less than 10% of the average for July and early August, according to Meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson.

“Around July 20 it caught my attention that for example east of Lómagnúpur mountain [in Southeast Iceland] there were already numerous dry streambeds,” Einar wrote yesterday on his Facebook page, where he maintains a weather blog. “It was impossible to find usable drinking water. That was about four weeks ago. Since then, there has been almost no rain in that area.”

While Iceland experienced a rather wet spring, the weather shifted in July across most of the country, with Stykkishólmur reporting just 4.7 mm of rainfall that month and only 0.5 mm since. In Höfn, Southeast Iceland, rainfall measured 11.6 mm, a record low (although notably, the town’s records do not go as far back as those in Stykkishólmur).

Einar observes that the dry spell has affected water levels in many rivers across the country, even glacial rivers fed by meltwater during the summer. Norðurá river at Stekkur and Fossá river in Breiðafjörður measure at just 1% of their average flow rates for this time of year.

According to Einar, the North Atlantic fronts that usually unload their rain over Iceland have instead moved over the British Isles and Northern Europe, where weather has been unseasonably wet. Ireland has been experiencing record rainfall and downpours have caused floods in Norway and elsewhere.

“Good Spring Weather” Ahead Following Historically Cold March

According to long-term forecasts, this April could be one of the warmest on record. A meteorologist has told Vísir that warm air is expected over the country after the weekend, with “good spring weather” anticipated around the first day of summer.

A quick transition from the coldest March in 44 years

Temperatures have remained above average this month, marking a quick transition from the coldest March on record in 44 years. April could also become historic, albeit for happier reasons, according to meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson who expects good spring weather next week.

“A predicted high-pressure area over the British Isles, along with milder air from the southeast, is expected to bring very mild weather in the coming week, potentially around the first day of summer,” Einar, who also forecasts the weather on the website Blika.is, told Vísir.

According to the Norwegian Meteorological Agency’s long-term forecast, temperatures could reach double digits next week. Einar preferred to remain grounded: “A temperature range between 5-9°C is considered good for the month of April – and if one can feel the warmth of the sun during this time,” Einar noted. He warned that if the trend of warm weather continues, April could be considered an extreme weather month, similar to April 2019, provided there are no sudden changes in the last week.

April 2019 was the warmest in many parts of the country since the beginning of measurements; the average temperature in Reykjavík was 6.5°C. Einar told Vísir that it was, however, too early to say whether this year’s First Day of Summer (Thursday, April 20) would also mark the actual start of summer.

“Cold spells with snow or rain can manifest themselves in this country throughout May and until June. But after this cold winter, it would be great to have a sunny and warm May to get rid of the ice from the ground and better prepare us for the arrival of summer,” Einar concluded by saying.

Cold Spell Likely to Persist Well Into the Weekend, Next Week

winter tires reykjavík

Following a weekend of relatively warm weather, temperatures in Iceland plummeted below 0°C on Monday. Meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson informed Vísir that a prolonged cold spell, caused by “pure arctic air,” would likely continue into next week.

“Voices of spring silenced”

After temperatures dropped below freezing on Monday, a Vísir reporter reached out to meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson, who predicted that freezing temperatures would persist until at least this weekend.

“This is a very typical March cold spell, which we’ve seen at this time of year in recent years. Neither worse nor milder than previous cold spells. The arctic has become quite cold, and this cold air often drifts southward,” Einar Sveinbjörnsson observed.

According to Einar, the freezing temperatures are expected to persist until next weekend, with the possibility of the cold spell continuing into next week.

“It started to get cold [on the day before] yesterday, with freezing temperatures being registered throughout the country. Unlike the prolonged cold spell from last December, this current cold snap was accompanied by wind,” Einar remarked. He pointed out that the fair weather last weekend had made many people think that spring was on its way:

But it’s like that book, which marked the beginning of the environmental movement [Silent Spring]: the voices of spring fall silent – because the voices of spring certainly fell silent quite suddenly. But it would have been unnatural if we had begun to see spring-like conditions at the beginning of March. If such a thing were to become a reality, one would begin to fear the effects of climate change,” Einar observed.

Einar concluded by saying that the cold air originated from ice sheets in the arctic: “The air is also dry, not much moisture, but, first and foremost, we’ll continue to see cold weather and wind chill.”

Reykjavík Residents Asked to Limit Hot Water Usage During Upcoming Cold Spell

A woman walking two young children through the snow

Iceland’s Meteorological Office has issued yellow or orange weather warnings for every region of the country starting at varying times today. Due to strong northern winds, Icelanders can expect an unusually cold spell to last well into the weekend, and Veitur Utilities ask people to limit their hot water usage for the next few days to help them keep up the supply.

According to the Met Office’s forecaster’s remarks, it “looks like northerly gales or strong gales today with snow in the northern half of Iceland and possibly blizzard in North- and East-Iceland. Becoming colder. Still northerly strong gales tomorrow (Thursday) and winds not calming down considerably until Friday afternoon.” A yellow weather warning will be in effect in every region of the country today except for southeast Iceland, where the Met Office has issued an orange warning. “North and northwest 20-28 m/s(45-63 mph) by eastern Vatnajökull and in Öræfi. Gusts expected to exceed 45 m/s (101mph) with a possible sandstorm and flying pebbles.” People all over Iceland, but especially in the southeast are advised to secure loose objects in their immediate surroundings and reconsider travel plans.

Temperatures are expected to drop as far as -18°C(-0.4°F) in the country’s central highland, while temperatures in and around Reykjavík will likely be closer to 6-7°C below zero (19-21°F). While Iceland has been experiencing low temperatures lately, the recent frost hasn’t been accompanied by strong winds. This time, the low temperatures are accompanied by northerly gales, and the added wind chill will make the next few days the coldest Reykjavík has seen since 2013, Meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson explains. According to Einar, during still and frosty days, surface temperatures are low, but you don’t have to go high up to find warmer air. During cold and windy days, that’s not the case and the frosty winds can bite. He recommends keeping a warm hat and a pair of woollen mittens handy and taking extra care when bundling up kindergarten-aged children.

Veitur Utilities PLC has activated their contingency plan for hot water usage in the capital area. Among other things, that includes encouraging people to limit hot water usage as much as possible to ensure enough hot water supply to heat every house in the area.

Forecasting models that use weather forecasts to assess hot water usage foresee that hot water supply in the capital area will reach its tolerance threshold on Friday and into the weekend. About 90% of hot water is used to heat houses, which makes it very important that people know how best to use it. People are encouraged to:

  • keep their windows shut
  • don’t keep doors open for longer than necessary
  • don’t fill up hot tubs
  • set radiators so that they’re hot on top but cold towards the floor
  • make sure radiators aren’t covered by long curtains or furniture
  • lower pressure on snow-melting systems.

In addition to asking the public to limit their hot water usage, Veitur is also raising the water temperature to users from low-temperature geothermal areas in Reykjavík and Mosfellsbær. They’ve finetuned their system so that it is fit to keep up the supply and are working on repairing new pumps bought this autumn with the intent to increase supply.