Does Reykjavík Have Heated Sidewalks?

heated sidewalks reykjavík

When the city of Saskatoon wanted to invest in heated sidewalks in 2013, the CBC wrote: “Imagine a city with snow-free sidewalks all winter long without having to be plowed or shovelled. This isn’t a magical land — it’s Iceland, and the City of Saskatoon is looking towards it and a few other Scandinavian countries for inspiration.”

This may have led to a perception that most streets in Reykjavík, or even all of Iceland, are heated for snow removal. While this is not the case, many of Reykjavík’s busiest streets and sidewalks are, indeed, heated.

Iceland began installing these systems in the early 2000s. And while the energy cost might be prohibitive elsewhere, the availability of environmentally-friendly geothermal energy makes the system more or less environmentally neutral once it’s installed. Additionally, around two thirds of the heated water used in these systems is return water from space heaters. The water in space heaters in homes and businesses throughout Iceland averages 35°C [95°F], making it ideal for this task.

While many new outdoor parking lots feature such heating systems, there are still plenty of sidewalks throughout the capital region without these, as many travellers discovered this winter. 

In general, only new developments and the densest part of downtown are heated. Other municipalities throughout Iceland also have such systems, but the majority can be found in and around Reykavík. Of the 920,000 m2 total area covered by snow removal systems in 2008, 690,000 m2 was in the capital area.

Approximately one-third of these systems are in use in commercial areas, one-third by private homes, and one-third are installed in public areas.

 

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.

Snowiest February in Reykjavík Since 2000

snow plow shoveling winter weather

The price tag for snow removal in the City of Reykjavík this February is expected to amount to ISK 300 million [$2.3 million; €2.1 million], roughly double the average cost for that month, Vísir reports. Snow plough operators say that consistent snowfall and thick ice on the roads have made the last month a challenge. This was the snowiest February in Reykjavík since the year 2000, according to the Icelandic Met Office.

A series of storms hit Iceland last month, most bringing heavy precipitation. Snow and ice have accumulated in the streets of Reykjavík and snow plough operators have hardly been able to finish clearing the results of one snowfall before the next filled the streets yet again. Cumulative snowfall in Reykjavík last month amounted to 113.8 mm, which is 26% above the average for that month between 1991-2020.

“It’s been a terrible time,” Hjalti Jóhannes Guðmundsson, office manager of land maintenance at the City of Reykjavík stated. “It’s snowed, it’s rained, it’s frozen over, and it’s snowed again. So we never really get to finish our project, to clear properly before the next snowfall begins. So we’ve had to take ploughs and equipment and manpower from the lowest priority in residential streets and put them back in other projects to just start all over again.” Many residential streets in the city have thus had to wait for ploughing as main thoroughfares are prioritised.

Plough operator Þorkell Hjaltason says the ice that has formed on the streets has made snow removal particularly difficult. “This is totally new, at least now. It was more like this around 1980, when I was also ploughing. Then it was often like this. But we haven’t seen this in many years.” He says the conditions have exhausted staff in recent days.

A banner on the City of Reykjavík website states that snow removal is “at full blast,” and urges residents who have comments on snow removal to use the webchat service, online submission form, or send an email, as the phone lines are busy. The banner notes that garbage collection is also behind schedule and asks residents to clear snow and spread salt or gravel around their garbage cans.

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.