More Road Closures Following Heavy Snowfall

winter weather road snow

Recent snowfall has led to road closures throughout the country.

Snow removal teams are working at full capacity, stated Eiður Fannar Erlendsson, overseer of winter service for Reykjavík City. With 20 vehicles, he estimates that it will be some four to five days until roads in the capital area are fully cleared.

As of the morning of December 27, Route 1 on the South Coast between the Markarfljót river and Kirkjubæjarklaustur is closed. Additionally, Hellisheiði, the important pass between the Reykjanes peninsula and Hveragerði is also closed. Road closures are subject to change, and travelers are advised to check safetravel.is for the latest information.

Conditions in Grindavík, a town on the South Coast of the Reykjanes peninsula, are also reported as being bad. The road to Grindavík is closed, with reports of cars abandoned in the snow. Road teams were at work in Grindavík until early this morning to ensure that healthcare workers could get to work.

Additionally, two houses in Mýrdalur, east of Vík, were evacuated due to avalanche risk.

Morgunblaðið also reports that December of this year has seen some 128 calls to ICESAR, Iceland’s volunteer search and rescue. Last year during the same time period saw 40 search and rescue calls, a significant increase.

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.

Weather Alerts Issued Across the Country Today

Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse

The Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow and orange weather alerts across the country today, February 25. An orange weather alert will be in effect for the capital region from 11 AM to 5 PM today.

A season of storms

Two powerful lows have swept across Iceland in relatively quick succession: one in late January and another last Monday. In keeping with this theme, the Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow and orange weather alerts for all of Iceland today.

An orange weather alert will be in effect for the capital region from 11 AM to 5 PM. Reykjavík is expected to be bombarded with heavy wind and precipitation.

As noted on the Met Office’s website: “SE 18-25 m/s with sleet and later rain. Damages due to flying debris are likely and construction workers are encouraged to secure construction sites. Important to clear grates and remove snow from building entrances to prevent flood damage or injury.”

An orange weather alert will also be in effect for Faxaflói Bay, the Westfjords, and the Central Highlands. Yellow weather alerts will apply to the rest of the country.

Route One closed between Reykjavík and South Iceland

In the lead up to the storm, the Icelandic Road Administration has announced that it has closed Route One from Reykjavík to South Iceland (the Hellisheiði segment). Mosfellsheiði toward Þingvallavatn has also be closed. The Road Administration advises that this is no weather for travelling.

For more information on road conditions, visit safetravel.is.

Pilot Program Could Increase Access to Westfjords Over Winter

There will be increased snow plowing on Strandavegur, a coastal road that runs through the Westfjords municipality of Árneshreppur, from January to March. Per a press release issued by the government on Thursday, snow will be removed twice a week, weather conditions permitting. This pilot project is a collaboration between the Icelandic Regional Development Institute, the Westfjords Regional Development Office, and the municipality itself, and is part of the Fragile Settlements initiative, which aims to strengthen select rural communities throughout the country.

Golli

Strandavegur is an 80-km [50 mi] road that runs along the coast from Bjarnafjörður to Norðurfjörður. Much of the road runs through an area known for avalanches during the winter. Adding the fact that the road is not in terribly good shape, this generally means that authorities are frequently unable to remove snow on Strandavegur or keep it open in the winter. Limited reception also means that it’s more dangerous for employees and travellers to use this route during difficult weather.

If successful, the pilot program could have a significant impact, allowing increased access to a region popular with travellers but largely inaccessible for much of the year. The Westfjords are, perhaps, on even more tourists’ bucket lists these days: in November, Lonely Planet named it one of its top ten regions to visit in 2022.

Snow removal on Strandavegur will be handled by locals and the Icelandic Road Administration, which will maintain the twice-a-week schedule provided that there is no risk of avalanche and that weather conditions will not put employees at risk. The Road Administration will finance the pilot project with an eye to determining whether it will be possible to continue winter snow clearance along the seaside road throughout the winter and if so, how it can be done in a safe manner on a long-term basis.

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.

New Speed Cameras Installed Near Selfoss

The Icelandic Road Administration has installed two new speed cameras on the Ring Road in South Iceland, just east of the town of Selfoss. RÚV reports that the cameras will go into use on March 1.

The cameras are part of the government’s road safety plan, says the Icelandic Road Administration, which aims to reduce traffic speed throughout the country as well as the number of road accidents. The government passed a number of new traffic laws that went into effect on January 1 this year, including permitting authorities to ban or limit traffic to reduce pollution, lowering the maximum blood alcohol level permitted for drivers from 0.05% to 0.02%, and officially making it illegal to drive through red lights (this was previously a traffic regulation, but had not been made into law).

The digital cameras will send images of speeding violations directly to the police (photos will only be taken of vehicles in violation of the speed limit).

Unless otherwise marked, the general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas and 30 km/hr in residential areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt roads. For more information, see the Icelandic Transport Authority’s “How to Drive in Iceland” page, here.

 

45 Years Later, All of Route 1 Paved

45 years after the creation of Route 1, the Icelandic Ring Road, the circle has been fully completed as all of the road is now paved. The last stretch of the ring road to be fully completed was in Berufjörður fjord in East Iceland, which had been a gravel stretch of the road up until now.

The road in Berufjörður is 4,9 kilometres long and shortens the total length of Route 1 by 3,9 kilometres. It has been open for traffic with the new conditions since August 1 but was officially opened by the Icelandic Road Administration on August 14. The project of replacing the gravel with paved roads has been in the works since the early 2000s. This stretch of Route 1 was one of the more controversial as the road could ill handle rain along with heavy traffic. Over a thousand cars use the road stretch every day, so conditions became especially bad on the old gravel road during rain.

The project of converting the gravel road into a paved one, along with a new bridge crossing the Berufjörður fjord, began in August 2017. W

Route 1
Route 1 was created in 1974 with the construction of bridges crossing Skeiðarársandur sands. The 1,322 kilometre long road is popular with travellers, as they can circle the whole of the island. For the first years, the majority of the ring road was gravel. Work began on replacing the gravel with gravel in 1978.
Three separate extensive pushes were made by the Iceland Road Association towards making the whole of Route 1 paved. The first part to be completed was between Reykjavík and Akureyri in 1994, while the next project was from Reykjavík to Höfn í Hornafirði in 2001. The final major undertaking was completed between Akureyri and Egilsstaðir in 2009. Since then, smaller parts of Route 1 have slowly been upgraded from gravel roads to paved.

Head to www.road.is or call 1777 for road information during your travels in Iceland.