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. 

Yellow Weather Warning Across South Iceland

yellow weather warning Feb 1 2024

Heavy rain and extreme thawing are expected across the Reykjavík capital area, as well as the western, southern, and southwest regions of Iceland tonight. The Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow weather alerts for the regions between 8:00 PM this evening and 6:00 AM tomorrow morning.

Rain and rapidly rising temperatures are expected to cause higher water levels in rivers and streams as well as an increased risk of flooding. Locals are advised to clear grates to prevent flood damage from rain and meltwater. Conditions are also expected to be slippery, due to rainfall on ice and compressed snow. Travellers are encouraged to exercise caution and monitor weather forecasts and road conditions regularly.

No Red Weather Warnings in Iceland in 2023

weather warning map

No red weather alerts were issued in Iceland last year. The year’s weather was relatively calm, at least when considering the number of weather warnings issued. The total number of warnings issued by the Icelandic Met Office was 311, which is slightly below average. Of those warnings, 280 were yellow weather warnings and 31 were orange weather warnings.

Weather fluctuates between years

The numbers are significantly lower than in 2022, when 456 weather warnings were issued: 372 yellow, 74 orange, and ten red. When data from the past six years is compared, it is clear that the number of weather warnings fluctuates considerably between years. In 2020, just 235 weather warnings were issued, while in 2020, the total number of weather warnings was 531.

Last year’s weather warnings were fairly evenly distributed across the country’s regions, with around 25-35 warnings issued for each region. The capital area and East Iceland received just 15 and 18 weather warnings respectively, however.

Most warnings due to wind

Most of the weather warnings issued in 2023 were due to strong winds, although warnings were also issued due to rain, snow, and rapid thawing (known to cause flooding). Yellow weather warnings indicate a high probability of poor weather with limited societal impact, while red weather warnings indicate that the weather conditions will have a significant impact on society.

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.

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.

Successful Response to Extreme Weather

None were injured in the winter storm that hit Iceland yesterday, and response efforts went smoothly, representatives of the Icelandic Association for Search, Rescue, and Injury Prevention (ICE-SAR) and the Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department told Vísir. Efforts mostly consisted of assisting travellers who had gotten stuck in the snow. The weather has calmed across the country today and is expected to be calmer in the coming days, though with heavy precipitation.

Cars stuck in snow

Travellers required assistance in various regions, including the capital area, West Iceland, Southeast Iceland, and East Iceland. More than 10 cars got stuck in the Grafarholt neighbourhood of Reykjavík around 10:00 PM last night. Only one response centre for travellers was opened, in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Southeast Iceland, and 34 travellers sought shelter there.

Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, the Civil Protection Department’s Communications Officer, believes that the weather warnings released over the past two days served to prevent serious accidents. “We believe that people just decided to stand with us in all of this,” she stated.

Keflavík Flights Impacted by Winter Weather

Keflavík Airport

The winter weather that hit the Capital Region over the weekend is causing delays and cancellations to flights out of Keflavík International Airport.

Eight flights were canceled to the country last night, including all flights from the US. 

Additional delays to flight from and to Europe are expected today as well.

The Meteorological Office has issued a yellow weather warning for much of the country, and an orange weather warning for Southeast Iceland.

Stay up to date with the Meteorological Office’s weather warnings here.

Travelers are advised to contact their airline for further information, in addition to checking flight times at the airport’s website.

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.

Heavy Rains and Risk of Flooding in North Iceland Today

weather warning north iceland

Considerable rainfall is forecasted for North Iceland today, particularly in the eastern part of the region and on the Tröllaskagi peninsula. Elevated water levels are expected in rivers, and localised flooding may occur. There is also increased risk of rock falls and landslides in the area due to the wet and windy weather. A yellow weather alert has been issued for the region.

Outdoor activities such as hiking are not advised in North Iceland today due to the combination of wet weather, strong wind, and low temperatures. Travellers in the area can monitor weather conditions on the Icelandic Met Office website and road conditions at road.is.

Conditions are expected to improve by 6:00 PM in Northwest Iceland and by 9:00 PM in the northeast region. Mild weather is in the forecast for other regions of the country today.