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.

Peace Tower Lighting Ceremony Cancelled Due to Weather

Imagine Peace Tower

The annual lighting of the Imagination Peace Tower ceremony on the island of Víðey just off the coast of Reykjavík has been cancelled due to inclement weather. Per an announcement on the City of Reykjavík’s website, Sunday’s planned celebrations have been called off due to wind warnings in Faxaflói Bay, where Víðey is located.

The Imagine Peace Tower is an outdoor artwork by Yoko Ono in memory of her late husband, John Lennon. The white stone monument emits a tower of light, which extends upward at least 4,000 metres (13,100 feet) on a clear night. The words “Imagine Peace” are inscribed on the monument in 24 languages. The tower is lit every year from October 9th, Lennon’s birthday, through December 8th, the date of his assassination. It has been lit every year since 2007.

Lighting will be livestreamed

Typically, free ferries transport guests to Víðey on the evening of the lighting to observe the ceremony and participate in a variety of activities, from live music performances to guided history walks around the island.

Although the in-person ceremony has been cancelled this year, the tower will still be lit as usual, at 8:00PM local time. The lighting will be broadcast live on the Imagine Peace Tower website and RÚV’s television and radio schedule on Sunday evening will include a number of related content, such as a TV segment on the history of the tower, and a radio documentary about the life of John Lennon. His song “Imagine” will also be broadcast at 8:00PM, when the tower is lit.

Coldest Night This Winter and Frosty Conditions Ahead

The coldest temperature of the winter thus far, -21°C [-5.8°F], was measured near Mývatn lake in North Iceland on Friday night, RÚV reports, and meteorologists say that the cold snap will continue, with temperatures between -2 and -15°C [28-5°F] on Saturday.

Temperatures will continue to be coldest in inland areas in the Northeast of the country, although otherwise, weather conditions are expected to be mild and good for outdoor activities.

The window for winter fun will be brief, however, as in much of the rest of the country, there is a yellow alert in effect for wind on Sunday. Gale or severe gale-force winds of up to 15-23 m/s [49-75 f/s] in the capital area and similar conditions are expected in South Iceland, Southwest Iceland, Northwest Iceland, the Westfjords, Northwest Iceland, and the (uninhabited) central highlands. Sleet or rain is expected in low-lying areas on Sunday afternoon.

Roads are open throughout the country, but ice can be expected in most places, as can occasional snow cover on roadways.

 

More Extreme Weather On Saturday

Tourists walk carefully during extreme weather in Reykjavík

Iceland is bracing itself for more difficult weather this weekend, Visír reports. The Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow warnings for most of the country and orange alerts for South and Southeast Iceland where conditions are expected to be the worst.

Windspeeds of 23 – 30 m/s are expected in South Iceland, with the worst gales around the Eyjafjöll mountains, where they could reach up to 50 m/s.

Snowfall and poor visibility are also expected, as well as rain or sleet in the lowlands in the afternoon.

Winds in Southeast Iceland are likely to reach 23 – 28 m/s and that region can also expect considerable precipitation. The windiest part of the Southeast will be around Öræfi, particularly around the mountains, where wind speeds may also exceed 50 m/s.

The weather is supposed to clear considerably in most parts of the country on Sunday but travelling on Saturday is strongly discouraged. Check road.is for current advisories and road conditions.

ICE-SAR Responded to Nearly 800 Calls in One Day

Search and Rescue volunteers deal with storm damages

Iceland’s Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) teams responded to 763 calls on Friday, all before 6.00pm, while the country was on red alert during a punishing bout of extreme weather. Mbl.is reports that just over 800 individuals, including volunteer members, police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, took part in the day’s emergency operations.

A few instances were reported of the wind tearing roof plates off buildings and bus stop shelters from the ground, requiring search and rescue volunteers to weigh them down to prevent further damage. In spite of the extraordinary number of calls, however, only a few notable injuries were reported, such as a man in Hvalfjörður who was hit by a roof plate that had been blown loose. He was then transported to the hospital in Reykjavík.

In addition to ICE-SAR teams, an estimated 200 additional workers spent the day trying to minimize infrastructural damage caused by the storm, for instance by maintaining and repairing power line poles.

The storm brought with it wind gusts of as much as 71 metres per second (159 miles per hour) and dangerously high tides which surged over residential streets in Keflavík and caused flooding in the South Iceland town of Garður. By Friday evening, the red alert was lifted by the Icelandic Met Office, but an orange warning is still in effect for the whole country. At the time of writing, parts of the south coast were still without power and some were without hot water, but capital area services were returning to normal with the city buses running again and healthcare clinics and post offices reopened. Road closures in the south had been lifted for the most part, but roads in the north and Westfjords remained closed.

ICE-SAR Hard at Work Freeing Stranded Vehicles During Friday Blizzard

Cars trapped on the road

As many as 80 Search and Rescue members were called out to help people in weather-related difficulties on Friday, mbl.is reports.

Yellow and Orange weather advisories were in effect throughout the country on Friday, with hurricane-strength winds and blizzard conditions making driving particularly dangerous.

Unsurprisingly, then, one of ICE-SAR’s primary tasks that day was to help drivers dig out their cars after becoming stuck in snowdrifts or sliding off of icy roads. Around twenty Search and Rescue volunteers went to work on the Eyjafjörður fjord in North Iceland, where multiple cars had gotten stuck, but there were also call-outs around towns in East Iceland, South Iceland, and around the capital area.

Wind and Wave Warning This Weekend

A low-pressure area off the southwest coast of Iceland will bring gale-force winds in that region and will likely trigger waves of up to 13 m [43 ft], Vísir reports.

These waves will not merely be out at sea but will also be in evidence along the southern and western coastlines, particularly in the later part of the day and evening on Friday. As much of Route 1 and other main roadways travel along the coast in these regions, travellers are advised to be cautious.

Alerts posted on safetravel.is similarly advise that “very strong and hazardous” waves at Reynisfjara beach on the South Coast are expected for the whole weekend. Visitors should “[u]se extra caution, stay WELL back from the water, and [not] leave children unattended.” No one should attempt to enter the cave at Reynisfjara during this time, either.

Safetravel.is also notes that Friday evening will being high winds of up to 40m/s [144 km/h;  90 mph] “in the north and east from Hvammstangi to Egilsstaðir and in the highlands.” Drivers are advised to reduce their speed when driving in these areas.

You can check Safetravel.is for weather alerts in Icelandic. English, French, German, and Chinese.