Extreme Weather Across Iceland Causes Power Outages and Damage

Some parts of Iceland are still in the dark after extreme weather caused power outages and property damage across the country, including in the Reykjavík capital area. Winds reached speeds of 40 metres per second in the Southwest region, though precipitation was less than forecasted. Many roads across the country remain closed and travel is not recommended.

Search and rescue crews in the capital area, South Iceland, and the Suðurnes peninsula received around 100 calls for assistance last night due to the extreme weather. Power went out in some parts of Reykjavík, as well as the nearby municipalities of Garðabær and Hafnarfjörður, when the storm was at its height last night. Weather conditions have improved, and the public bus service Strætó, which had cancelled its morning service, has now begun operating once more.

Residents of South Iceland between Hólar and Höfn were still without power as of 9:00 AM this morning, as some power lines were felled by the weather. Lightning, a rare occurrence in Iceland, had delayed repairs in the region. In West Iceland, parts of Melasveit and Kjós were also without power this morning. Crews were working to locate damaged equipment.

Conditions have already improved somewhat in West and South Iceland as the storm moves eastward across the country. Strong winds are expected in the region this evening, though nowhere near the speeds experienced last night.

Extreme Weather Causes Travel Disruptions, Power Outages, and Property Damage

Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse

The predicted severe winds hit the country this morning, causing travel disruptions, property damage and disruptions to capital area services. The red alert warning has now expired, although an orange warning is still in effect for the whole country. Parts of the south coast are still without power and some without hot water but capital area services are returning to normal with the city buses running again and healthcare clinics and post offices reopened. Road closures in the south have been lifted for the most part but roads in the north and Westfjords are still closed

A particularly deep low-pressure area was predicted to move over the country, causing the Met Office to issue a red alert for the second time ever since implementing the colour-alert system in 2017. The first time was this December in north Iceland. High tide was an added concern as the combination meant that tall waves could cause problems.

Waves by Harpa during extreme weather
[/media-credit] Photo by Golli

Extensive precautions were put in place, and most main roads in the country, including all roads to and from the city, were closed this morning when the worst of the storm hit. On the road by mt. Hafnarfjall between Reykjavík and Borgarnes, a steady wind speed of almost 30 metres per second and a particularly strong gust of wind measured 71 metres per second (159 miles per hour). Some roads have now been reopened in the south but road closures are still in effect in North Iceland. In North Iceland and the northern part of the Westfjords, some roads have been closed due to danger of avalanches.

The extreme weather caused power outages, mostly on the south coast but also in Hvalfjörður and Húsafell in West Iceland. On the south coast, power has been restored to Höfn but the surrounding area is still without power. The towns of Vík and Vestmannaeyjar are running on backup generators and hotels are packed with travellers unable to continue their journey due to road closures. Power outages in the south coast also caused hot water shortage in Hella and Hvolsvöllur. Repairs are in progress.

Services in the city were suspended – kindergartens, schools and universities were closed, as well as post offices and health care centres, but since noon, most services are back to normal. A few instances have been 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 the greater Reykjavík area, the wind was felt the most in Kjalarnes, where the wind blew a roof partially off a building and sundecks off the ground.

Tourists watch boats in Reykjavík marina during extreme weather
[/media-credit] Photo by Golli

On the Reykjanes peninsula, the wind in collaboration with high tides meant that tall waves crashed over residential areas, even flooding a house in Garður. A coastal street within Keflavík was closed due to tall waves crashing over the street. In Vestmannaeyjar, a boat was unmoored and later sank. Tall waves crashed over the Reykjavík harbour and boats were damaged.

Search-and-rescue volunteers had a busy night all over the country, with the first calls starting just after midnight. Few injuries have been reported, but in Hvalfjörður a man was hit by a roof plate that had been blown loose. He was transported to hospital in Reykjavík.

Search and Rescue volunteers deal with storm damages
[/media-credit] Photo by Golli

While the extreme weather is subsiding in the south, an orange alert is still in place for the whole country today and travellers should consult www.safetravel.is before setting off. A thunderstorm is expected to hit the south coast tomorrow, a rare occurrence in Iceland.

Power Restored to All Parts of the Country

According to RARIK, the state energy corporation of Iceland, power was restored to all parts of the country yesterday, RÚV reports. RARIK still expects power outages as repairs are far from finished. Backup generators are still powering many parts of the country.

A Milestone in Repairs

Following a severe storm last week – that resulted in unprecedented power failure – RARIK and Landsnet have for the past week worked to repair Iceland’s electrical system. Transportation, communication, and businesses were all affected by the storm.

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Helga Jóhannesdóttir, head of RARIK’s operations division, stated that restoring power to all parts of the country that had experienced blackouts marked a significant milestone. Electricity was restored to Hrútafjarðarháls and to neighbouring areas of Hvammstangi. RARIK expects brief power outages as repairs are still being finished.

11,000 Residents Without Electricity

In a speech before Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir discussed the aftermath of the storm and the government’s response.

“It’s not an exaggeration to speak of a major storm. As meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson has noted we have not seen such conditions – with regard to northerly winds, salinity, high air pressure – since 1973  when a similar storm passed over the country in February, during the eruption on Heimaey,” Katrín stated.

“It’s clear that we possess enormous strength as a society, as those who responded to the storm accomplished incredible things, working around the clock to achieve what was nothing short of a miracle. At the same time, we must face up to the fact that the storm exposed significant weaknesses within our infrastructure.”

Katrín broadly recounted the series of events, observing that the Icelandic Met Office had for the first time issued a red weather warning and that police authorities had also declared a state of uncertainty. “According to information from the Civil Defence Commission, of the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, approximately 11,000 residents in 7,600 homes were without electricity.”

In her speech, Katrín emphasised that she had established a task force involving five ministries to propose necessary improvements.

Extreme Weather

Snow, wind, and ice damaged power lines and posts in North and East Iceland last Tuesday and Wednesday when a winter storm blew across the country. The resulting outages left thousands without power, some areas for as long as five days. In areas where the hot water supply relies on electricity, homes quickly got cold indoors. Some residents found themselves without electricity, heat, radio, or even cell phone signals, unable to reach help in case of emergencies.