Hazardous Road Conditions in the North

winter tires reykjavík

Roads across Iceland are out of commission today due to harsh winter weather. Conditions are especially bad in the north and Holtavörðuheiði, a part of the Ring Road between the capital area and Akureyri, has been closed, RÚV reports.

Buses postponed or cancelled

Bus trips operated by Strætó have been postponed or cancelled this morning. Bus 57 at 10:15 from Akureyri to Reykjavík was cancelled. The bus travelling in the opposite direction at 9:00, from Mjódd in Reykjavík going north, only made it to Borgarnes.

Routes 78 and 79, between Siglufjörður and Akureyri, and Húsavík and Akureyri, respectively, have been postponed for an indefinite period. Route 59 between Borgarnes and Hólmavík has also been postponed.

Many roads out of commission

In the northeast, the road over Möðrudalsöræfi has been closed and Öxnadalsheiði road is out of commission as well. According to the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, blinding snowfall and difficult driving conditions are to be expected in many areas, especially Vatnsskarð and Þverárfjall.

The snowfall is expected to decrease tonight. However, driving conditions in Skagafjörður will get worse today and roads could be closed later on. Slippery surfaces, poor visibility and hail can be expected on roads in the area.

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.

Driver Found Guilty in Fatal Bus Crash

Judge's gavel

The driver of a tour bus that rolled over in an accident in December 2017 and lead to the death of two people has received a six-month suspended prison sentence, RÚV reports. He will also lose his driver’s license for two years and responsible for paying both court and legal expenses in excess of ISK 4.1 million [$32,868; €28,930]. The ruling was issued on Friday by the South Iceland District Court.

The accident occurred in South Iceland, just west of the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The bus rolled over when the driver, who was traveling 10 – 12 km/hr over the posted speed limit, tried to edge the bus to the left when a passenger vehicle unexpectedly appeared on its right side. Ice on the roadway caused the bus to crash into the car, however, which had also slipped to the left.

There were 46 passengers on the bus when it overturned, all of whom were Chinese tourists. One of the passengers died at the scene of the accident, another two weeks later. Two additional passengers were seriously injured.

Witnesses testified that the bus was not in good repair on the day of the accident and should not have been driven. According to tachograph data collected from the bus in the minutes before the crash, it was traveling between 100 – 102 km/hr [62 – 63 mi/hr], although the posted speed limit on rural roads is 90 km/hr [56 mi/hr]. The driver testified that prior to setting off on the trip, he’d noticed that the brakes were not working equally well on all the vehicle’s wheels and also that the winter studs on the tires were fairly worn down.

The official report on the bus’s condition at the time of the accident also found that the tire studs were in poor condition. As such, they were of no use when the bus began slipping on the icy road at the time of the accident. Investigators also found that there was no brake on the left front wheel.

The driver’s negligence in failing to properly examine and conduct maintenance on the bus before setting out and also in driving over the speed limit in icy conditions was then, the court found, directly responsible for the deaths of two people and the serious injury of two more.

Icy Road Warning Throughout Country

Snowstorm Iceland

Travelers should expect ice on all main roads in the capital area as well as on roads throughout the country, RÚV reports.

According to a forecast from the Icelandic Met Office, while snow storms are expected around most of the country this weekend, the Northeast should enjoy clear skies for the next few days, although it will get steadily colder. South and East Iceland can expect high winds and snow or sleet today, as well as rain along the coasts. Northwest Iceland will likely avoid precipitation for most of the weekend.

South and East Iceland will get warmer tomorrow, allowing for a thaw in those regions. However, a northeasterly wind on Sunday, will bring more snow and sleet, and the temperature will drop again. This will lead to roads icing over in this region.

In the West and Southwest, there will be a snowstorm tonight and considerable snow cover come tomorrow morning. West Iceland will also get a lot of snow, and road conditions will be icy. There will be considerable ice throughout the Westfjords, as well as intermittent snowstorms. North, Northeast, and East Iceland will have widespread ice. All main roads in the capital area are expected to be icy all weekend.

The icy road warning is an especially important one for drivers to heed given that icy driving conditions lead to a serious accident on the south coast only yesterday.

Drivers are reminded to check up-to-date weather conditions (in English) on the Icelandic Met Office website (here) and road conditions on the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration website (here). Safe Travel Iceland is also a valuable resource (in English, German, French, Chinese, and Icelandic) for safe driving and traveling tips, as well as important alerts.

Three Airlifted to Hospital After Car Accident on South Coast

A collision involving two vehicles on Sudurlandsvegur in South Iceland ended with three people being transported to the hospital by helicopter and a fourth sustaining less serious injuries, RÚV reports.

All four of the accident victims are foreign citizens, although their nationalities were not disclosed by police. There were two passengers in each vehicle. According to the Suðurland police, the driver of one of the cars lost control on an icy patch of road at around 6 pm on Thursday night, and the cars collided. The vehicles crashed at high speed, flipping one of them. One of them was so damaged that two of the passengers had to be cut from wreckage.

Police closed the road between Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur just after 7 pm while an initial investigation was made, and it was not reopened to traffic until almost 10 pm.

Serious traffic accidents have become unfortunately common in Iceland of late, and many such incidents occur in heavily trafficked South Iceland. In early January, three British citizens lost their lives when a car when a car drove off the bridge over Núpsvötn on the south coast. In terms of fatalities, this was one of the worst car accidents in Icelandic history.

In the middle of the month, a thirteen-year-old was hit by a car when walking to school. The victim did not sustain any serious injuries, but parents and concerned locals took up informal crossing guard duty after the event.

Then, at the end of January, a rental car collided with a school bus on a single-lane bridge on the road between the two popular tourist attractions, Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir. Luckily, no people were injured in the crash, but both vehicles were totaled.

At time of writing, there was no report on the condition of Thursday’s accident victims.