Hellisheiði Closed After First Snowfall of the Year

winter weather iceland

After the first snowfall of the year, Hellisheiði, the section of road connecting the capital region to the South Coast, has been closed.

Several weather warnings were in effect through the night, and much of West, Southwest, and South Iceland are still under a yellow warning. Travellers can expect high winds, and unnecessary travel is to be avoided.

Expect Closures

G. Pétur Matthíasson, a spokesperson for the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, stated to RÚV: “This is the first weather like this here in the southwest of the country, where most of the traffic is. So, the conditions on Hellisheiði and Þrengsli [an alternate route to the South Coast] are not very good, which is why Hellisheiði has been closed due to the weather, and Þrengsli is at an uncertain stage.”

There are also reports of several stranded cars and drivers have encountered difficulties this morning due to severe conditions in the area. “This morning on Hellisheiði, there were quite a few cars that still had summer tires. The conditions were such that it’s not enough,” says G. Pétur stated to RÚV.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration will reassess the situation throughout the day. Hellisheiði will be reopened as soon as possible.

There was widespread snow in the countryside this morning, including in areas of the capital region.

Get the latest information on weather conditions at the Met Office. Live information on travel conditions and road closures can be viewed at the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s travel website.

Road and Coastal Administration Work All Night to Prevent Route One from Flooding

Employees of the Road and Coastal Administration worked through the night to ensure that rising water levels in the Djúpadalsá river Skagafjörður, North Iceland would not flood Route One (the Ring Road). RÚV reports that breakwaters along a five-kilometre stretch of the road have been damaged. Skagafjörður has received a great deal of rain in recent days and all the rivers in the area are rising.

Road and Coastal workers used bulldozers to try and reinforce breakwaters that were at risk due to rising waters and contain the Djúpadalsá river. Route One also needed fortification, said Stefán Öxndal Reynisson, an inspector with the Road and Coastal Administration in Sauðárkrókur.

“These breakwaters are really damaged for probably close to five kilometres and the only channel leading into the Djúpadalsá river is now just overflowing with stuff after we’d gotten it in pretty good shape when we dredged it for three or four years.”

The extent of the damage has yet to be determined, but it’s estimated that it will cost tens of millions of krónur to rebuild the breakwaters that have been destroyed.

Screenshot, RÚV

Unusual for many rivers to flood at once

Stefán says that usually, only one river floods at once. “But it was just all the rivers yesterday evening and overnight. It didn’t help that the Héraðsvötn river was also full and there was a bit of a bottleneck into the Djúpadalsá river as well.”

There’s still a great deal of water in the rivers, all of which are churning dark and muddy. It’s expected that the Road and Coastal Administration will need to spend a great deal of time reshaping the channel of the Djúpadalsá river so that it will be able to accommodate the next flood. But for now, the sole focus is on keeping the river under control until conditions improve.

“It’s a little colder now, so I’m hopeful that the water level in the river will go down so that we can see what we’ve really got to do here,” said Stefán.

Road to Landmannalaugar Opens For the Summer

Hálendi Landmannalaugar Highland Iceland

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration opened the road to Landmannalaugar via Sigalda yesterday, making the popular Laugavegur hiking route accessible for the summer, Vísir reports. The other point of access to Landmannalaugar will soon open as well. IRCA representative Magnús Ingi Jónsson stated that it will most likely be open to 4×4 vehicles by the weekend.

A map published by the IRCA shows which areas of the Icelandic highland interior is already open to traffic and which roads are still closed.

It should be noted that even if the roads have been opened for the summer, prospective drivers should still take precautions when driving Iceland’s F-roads and consult IRCA’s road condition maps before driving.

The Kjölur route was the first of the highland roads to open this summer, on June 10, with Kaldadalsvegur soon after. The Sprengisandur route still has copious amounts of snow and likely won’t open until July according to Magnús Ingi.

The road to Landmannalaugar is the starting point for Iceland’s most popular hiking route Laugavegurinn. The four-day hike begins at Landmannalaugar and ends at Þórsmörk and is only accessible at the height of summer.

Note that all of Iceland’s interior F-roads are gravel roads only accessible to 4×4 vehicles and often require fording rivers.

Glacial Outburst Flood Will Likely Peak on Sunday

The glacial outburst flood, or jökulhlaup, which started when the ice sheet in the Grímsvötn volcano beneath Vatnajökull glacier began to melt 11 days ago, is predicted to reach its peak on Sunday. At time of writing, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration does not believe that the runoff will affect traffic on Route 1 in South Iceland, nor that roads will need to be closed.

As of Friday morning, the Met Office reported that Grímsvötn ice sheet had sunk over 27m [89 ft] and was flooding the Gígjukvísl river at a rate of 1600 m3/s [56503 f3/s]. The electrical conductivity of the river, which is an indicator of how much geothermal meltwater it has taken on, has also been increasing and was measured above 464 µS/cm on Friday. The gas concentrations along the perimeter of the glacier have been measured at higher than normal levels, but do not currently pose a danger.

In the past, eruptions at Grímsvötn have begun following a glacial outburst flood. Per the Met Office, “[t]he loss of the water from Grímsvötn lake reduces the pressure on top of the volcano and this can allow an eruption to begin.” This happened in 1922, 1934, and later, in 2004, when an eruption beginning three days after a flood began. In that instance, there were a series of earthquakes before the eruption. But no earthquakes have been measured around the volcano at present.

COVID-19 Restrictions in Reykjavík: Less Traffic and More Online Shopping

There was 21% less traffic in Reykjavík last week compared to the same week in 2019, according to figures from the Road and Coastal Administration. Tightened COVID-19 restrictions are likely the reason. The statistics reflect a similar drop that occurred in March 2020, when restrictions during the first local wave of the pandemic were tightest. Online grocery retailers have seen a surge in customers in the past two weeks, also comparable to the increase seen last March.

COVID-19 Restrictions were tightened across Iceland on Monday last week following a rise in domestic case numbers. Further restrictions were imposed on the Reykjavík capital area two days later, where the vast majority of Iceland’s active cases are concentrated. The measures are similar to those imposed in March, including a 20-person cap on gatherings and the closure of gyms, bars, and swimming pools. The decrease in traffic last March also measured 21% as compared to March of 2019. A week-to-week comparison of traffic between 2020 and 2019 shows a decrease in most weeks throughout this year.

RÚV also reports an increase in online grocery shopping, reflecting similar trends in March of this year. “We are experiencing a huge rise in demand [in online shopping and delivery] in light of this new epidemic,” Ásta Sigríður Fjeldsted, CEO of grocery chain Krónan, stated. “It has just been increasing in the past few months and there’s been a real explosion in the last two weeks.” Online grocery retailer Heimkaup’s CEO says the company has experienced a 400% increase in demand and has had to hire new staff.

Giant Pothole in Ring Road

A giant pothole, measuring two metres [6.7 ft] deep and 1.5 metres [4.9 ft] wide was found on Route 1 near a bridge over the Norðurá river close to Borganes in West Iceland. Thanks a quick report from travellers and an equally quick response from Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, the hole was repaired before any accidents occurred.

Meltwater can cause significant damage to paved roadways in the spring and summer and roadworkers spend considerable time trying to repair damage as quickly as possible.

Vegagerðin / Ómar Kristófersson

Per a press release issued by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Management Administration, it was unusual circumstances, however, that allowed for the pothole in West Iceland to form so quickly and become so large before being reported and repaired. For one, there has been a considerable amount of meltwater in the last week, the drainage of which was then impeded by clumps of ice that had formed a sort of dam under the bridge. This allowed for a great build-up of underground water pressure. Before long, the water had bored through the reinforcement layer of the roadway and progressively ate away at the earth underneath the pavement. A small hole formed in the pavement, which then grew larger and larger until it was finally discovered and reported.

Icelandic Road and Coastal Management Administration received word of the pothole around 3pm; six hours later, it had been repaired.

Two Die in Traffic Accident Outside Reykjavík

fatal accident Iceland

A collision between a camper van and a motorcycle on Vesturlandsvegur outside Reykjavík yesterday afternoon caused the death of the motorcycle driver and passenger, RÚV reports. The driver of a second motorcycle was also hospitalised with serious injuries after he lost control of his vehicle. Recent road works may have played a part in the accident.

The accident occurred shortly after 3.00pm yesterday. Response crews were quick to arrive at the scene and the road was closed until nearly 7.00pm while they worked. The road where the accident occurred was newly paved and was said to be slippery.

“We are of course taking this very seriously,” Bergþóra Þorkelsdóttir, director of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Association, told RÚV reporters. “There were two contractors working for us there, on the one hand the one who surfaces the road and on the other hand the one that supervises. And it’s our estimation that the contractor did not perform their work in accordance with the terms of the contract. We will leave no stone unturned in this case.”

Avalanche Leaves Segment of Ring Road Impassable

Segment of Ring Road is impassable

A 500-metre wide avalanche has fallen onto the road in Ljósavatnsskarð near lake Ljósavatn in North Iceland, Mbl reports. The road forms a part of the Ring Road, which runs around the island and connects most of the inhabited parts of the country.

A motorist passing through Ljósavatnsskarð from the east drove into a 500-metre wide avalanche that fell near lake Ljósavatn in North Iceland. The accident occurred just before 9 pm yesterday. The motorist, who was not injured, received assistance from a local rescue unit.

According to a representative from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, all roads lying east from Akureyri are currently impassable and so is the route through Öxnadalsheiði to the west of Akureyri. Roads may open again today.

The Police in Northeast Iceland warns that as a lot of snow fell yesterday, there is still a risk of avalanches in the area. Travellers are encouraged to check road conditions – on safetravel.is, for example – before heading out. A yellow weather alert is in effect for large parts of Iceland.

Ljósavatnsskarð
[/media-credit] Safetravel.is

No Signs Yet of Imminent Múlakvísl Glacial Outburst Flood

So far, there have been no clear signs of the Múlakvísl jökulhlaup, or glacial outburst flood, which is expected to happen in the coming days or weeks. A GPS monitor has been put up in one of the calderas in Mýrdalsjökull glacier which will give more information on the timing of the flood. Salóme Jórunn Bernharðsdóttir, a natural hazard specialist at the Icelandic Meteorological Institute, states the institute is watching proceedings in Múlakvísl closely. So far, there have been no signs that the glacial outburst flood has started.

The newly installed GPS monitor is hoped to give clues about an imminent flood one to two days before the flood reaches the Múlakvísl river crossing at Route 1. Salóme stated that earthquake measurement devices should also display some disturbances around four to six hours before the flood reaches the bridge. Furthermore, electric conductivity should increase in Múlakvísl river before the flood happens. When water levels have risen at Léréftshöfuð, which is six kilometres north of the Múlakvísl river, the flood will reach the Route 1 crossing in half an hour to an hour.

The geothermal heat under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier causes water to collect in the calderas, causing regular glacial outburst floods in the area. Normally, the floods take place a little later in the summer when the mid-summer thaw at Mýrdalsjökull. The amount of water under Mýrdalsjökull glacier has led scientist to believe a glacial outburst flood is imminent. Last year, 2018, there was no flood so a considerable amount of water has collected under the glacier. The flood is expected to be the largest one in eight years, when the 2011 flood ruptured the Route 1 crossing the Múlakvísl river east of Vík í Mýrdal.

Information for travellers
At this point in time, it is believed that it is not necessary to close roads. That situation could change quickly, however, and authorities will step in if they believe a flood is about to occur.

What can happen, and how should travellers react?
Dangers which accompany a glacial outburst flood in Múlakvísl river:
– Floodwater can block the route from Route 1 towards Kötlujökull glacier west of Hafursey.
– Floodwater can flood over and block, or even rupture, Route 1 at the bridge crossing of Múlakvísl river.
– Floodwater can block the route into Þakgil.
– The gas hydrogen sulphide could be found in copious amounts close to Múlakvísl river. The gas can burn mucous membrane in the eyes and in the respiratory tract

Instructions:
– Respect road closures, as well as evacuations if they should occur.
– Keep away from the Múlakvísl river when a glacial outburst flood is occurring.
– Avoid places affected by gas pollution, such as along the river as well as in depressions nearby by it. Do not stop at the bridge crossing Múlakvísl or Skálm.

For those looking to keep a watchful eye on the proceedings when the flood occurs, this webcam of the Láguhvolar area should provide a view of the flood: http://brunnur.vedur.is/myndir/webcam/2019/07/04/webcam_laguhvolar.html

Travellers passing through the area are instructed to head to the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, www.road.is, for further information on road conditions, or call 1777.

Authorities Look to Raise Fines for Off-Road Driving

The best weapon in the fight against off-road driving is education, according to Minister for the Environment, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. He says more people are conscious of the damage caused by off-road driving and wants to look into raising fines.
Evidence of off-road driving can take a long time to disappear naturally. Nature lovers have resorted to fixing damage where they can but if the vegetation is damaged, that can be impossible to fix. Off-road driving is a growing problem in Iceland, as travellers disregard laws. Recently, a Russian social media influencer bragged about his off-road driving. He was prosecuted, however, and had to pay a hefty fine.

This summer, damages have been discovered when mountain roads were opened again for the season. Recently, the Environment agency reported off-road driving in the geothermal area by Sogin in the Reykjanes nature reserve to the police but the tracks will be wiped out in the next few days.
Government agencies put a lot of work into stopping off-road driving, according to Guðmundur Ingi. “I believe education is our main weapon when it comes to off-road driving. But there are also rules and the nature conservation law states that off-road driving is subject to fines, and also that vehicles can be impounded and offenders can even face jail time.”

The police consider every individual case. The minimum fine for off-road driving is 350,000 ISK (€2,477, $2,781) and fines higher than that amount are often issued. “I believe that the basis of the rules is good. It may be that we should raise the fines, and that’s something which I’m very ready to inspect,” minister Guðmundur continued.

The task of educating drivers is mostly handled by rangers. 200 million ISK (€1.4m, $1.58m) were added to the budget for land protection this year, and an extra 300 million ISK (€2.11m, $2.37m) of funds will go towards the cause next year.

Authorities charged individuals for 40 instances of off-road driving in 2018. “Truth be told, the overall management of this matter has improved in the last 5 or 10 years. Both the police along with search and rescue squads, which have started to be more prevalent in the highlands. So rangers, search and rescue teams, and the police are collaborating well in this field. It’s an infinite task which we will just have to continue to fight,” Guðmundur said.

Head to the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, www.road.is, for further information on road conditions and what is considered off-road driving.