Reykjavík’s Sunniest Start of the Year in 77 Years

Beautiful scenery in the harbour area of Reykjavík

You would have to go back to 1947 to find a sunnier start of the year in Reykjavík than 2024 has been so far. At the same time, other parts of Iceland have not been as lucky.

Over 500 hours of sunlight

According to a report issued by the Icelandic Met Office, Iceland’s capital has been blessed with some 512.1 sunlight hours. As Vísir points out, only 1947 had a sunnier start of the year.

That said, sunlight is not necessarily equivalent to warmth, of course. The temperature in Reykjavík in April was, on average, 3.1°C. This is about half a degree under the average for 1991 to 2020, and 1.3 degrees lower than the average for the past ten years. The first four months were, however, also not as rainy as the average for 1991 to 2020, with precipitation only reaching 70% of the average for that time period.

Snowy in the north and east

In other parts of the country, the situation was decidedly different. Heavy snowfall has been the hallmark of the northeast this spring.

Akureyri, located in north-central Iceland, experienced 17 snowy days in April alone. This is three times more than usual, and also meant that there was not a single day in town that month when the ground did not have at least some snow on it.

Not to worry, though; meteorologists predict a very sunny summer for Iceland.

Before You Go: How to Pack for Winter in Iceland

A person with two children walking in heavy snow.

Iceland in the wintertime is a marvellous experience. With its northern lights, stormy weather, snow-covered mountains and cosy darkness, it’s the perfect place to get the winter vibes. That being said, it can also be cold and wet, making appropriate clothing a critical part of your trip.  As the Icelanders say, there is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong attire. So, before you go, here is our guide on what to pack for your winter trip to Iceland.

The basics of dressing for the Icelandic winter 

The first thing you should do before you start packing is check the weather forecast. While the average temperature during winter in Iceland is 0 °C [32 °F], the actual temperature may be anywhere from -10°C [14 °F] or lower to 5°C [41 °F]. Adding to that, the varying levels of wind change your perception of the cold. This means that a still day at -5 °C [23 °F] might feel perfectly lovely, but a windy one at 0 °C [32 °F] will feel bitterly cold. Due to this unpredictability, layering is the way to go here. Bring:

  • Long trousers
  • Long sleeved tops
  • A woollen sweater
  • A thick winter jacket
  • Thermal underwear, particularly if you‘re not used to the cold
  • A warm hat
  • Gloves
  • A scarf 
  • Water-resistant winter boots
  • Woollen socks
  • Overtrousers to fend off rain and snow – these can be either a thin shell or, if the forecast looks extremely frosty, ski pants.

For the adventurous spirit

Knowing what you‘ll be doing is crucial when dressing for outdoor activities in Iceland. Are you hiking a glacier or doing some other high-energy activity? Pack:

  • A thermal baselayer
  • Woollen socks
  • A woollen sweater
  • Comfortable pants 
  • A breathable, water-resistant jacket
  • Overtrousers of the same sort
  • Good hiking shoes
  • A warm hat
  • Mittens
  • A scarf or warm buff

Avoid heavy-duty and non-breathable jackets and overpants. Those will make you sweat more and trap moisture inside your clothes, lessening your chance of staying warm. If you‘re worried about getting cold, bring an extra sweater or fleece jacket in your backpack.

If you‘re primarily going to be standing/sitting still or moving very slowly, e.g. when looking for the northern lights, bundle up a bit more with a down jacket, parka or extra sweater, as well as ski pants. 

In both cases, prioritise wool and leave cotton at home. Wool will keep you warm even when wet, whereas cotton will not. 

Other items to consider

  • You‘ll want to bring your reusable water bottle along, as Icelandic tap water is drinkable and high quality wherever you are. There‘s no need to spend unnecessary money on bottled water from the store. 
  • Bringing sunglasses is extremely important for drivers! It might seem odd, considering the winter sun is only up for a few hours in Iceland, but with the sun’s lower position in the sky, it‘s more likely to be in line with your eyes. This can leave you half-blind to your surroundings, which is extremely hazardous when driving.
  • For those planning to ski, spend time on a glacier, or go on a boat trip, you should pack a bottle of sunscreen. The sun reflects in the snow and water, increasing exposure to UV radiation. 
  • Moisturisers and lip balms are lifesavers when cold and windy, as those conditions tend to dry out the skin.
  • Bring extra gloves, socks, and a hat if your luggage has room. It‘s nice to have something dry to put on if you get caught in a snowstorm or heavy rain.
  • Lastly, bring your bathing suit to enjoy Iceland’s geothermal baths and natural hot springs!

Surprise “Spring Snow” in Reykjavík

spring snow downtown Reykjavík

Capital area residents in Iceland opened their eyes this morning to a blanket of white outside their window. Snow began falling yesterday and measured 10 cm [3.9 in] deep this morning at the Icelandic Met Office. While residents of Reykjavík and the surrounding area are not unused to seeing some falling flakes at this time of year, Meteorologist Teitur Arason of the Icelandic Met Office says this much snow in late April is indeed a rare occurrence.

“In the last 75 years, there have only been 4 instances of this much snow falling in the Reykjavík area in the second half of April,” Teitur told Iceland Review. A high-pressure front coming in from the south that brought spring-like weather to Iceland in recent weeks shifted above Greenland last weekend, he explained. It was replaced by a small low-pressure system, bringing the snowfall that is uncharacteristic for this time of year.

spring snow downtown Reykjavík
Golli. Spring snow in Reykjavík on April 27, 2023.

While Reykjavík skies remain clear this morning, South Iceland will receive its fair share of snowfall today, and travellers in the area are encouraged to check conditions before heading out. Teitur says the capital area may see more snowfall tonight. Weather in the area is then expected to remain cold, even dipping below the freezing mark in the coming days but should warm up from Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

Frost

Individually, snowflakes are fragile, easily broken, dissolving into droplets of water at the mere touch of a finger or a breath of air, while en masse, they’re capable of wreaking havoc on the city streets and causing catastrophe when avalanching down a mountainside.

Contrary to expectation, the correlation between outside temperature and the feeling of cold is less straightforward than people would think. It’s the wind that gets you.

At -19°C [-2.2°F], everything feels crisp. The air, certainly, but also the few rays of light that make it all the way up north at this time of year. The horizon turns an impossibly pastel shade of blue or pink and the grey streaks on the sides of the mountains solidify into a texture that, from a distance, looks soft to the touch.

They say there’s no such thing as bad weather: only a bad attitude to whatever conditions nature offers. Besides, bad weather is good weather under the right conditions. Snuggling beneath a warm blanket wouldn’t be half as nice if the sun were out and temperatures were warm.The weather is an opportunity: a not-so-blank canvas on which one can impose one’s limited imagination.

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These past two months have suggested, however, that the gods have come to show a more determined frigidity towards their human subjects: a lasting and glowering disapproval for our nonchalance towards nature.

Temperatures in Iceland usually vacillate. The weather here is infamously fickle. As if the product of temperamental gods, bestowing, depending on their mood – commendation or condemnation on the mortals dwelling below them.

Frost - vetur - Rauðavatn - klaki - náttúra

It’s hard to describe the feeling when you breathe deep in -19°C weather and – for a split second – your nose freezes shut.

Frost - vetur - Rauðavatn - klaki - náttúra

We care about the cold weather only as it affects our human lives. We lament that the accompanying snow has blocked the road to the airport. That the municipalities have been lacklustre in their clearing of sidewalks.

And we, worst of all, remain continually apprehensive that the utility companies will announce the indefinite closure of the public pools. Otherwise, the constant cold has made for beautiful weather. Less wind, clearer skies; there’s beauty in steadfastness.

Vetur
Miðborgin
Reykjavík

The ground is frozen solid. Icicles form along the gutters of roofs. And birds struggle to eke out their existence. Cars are warmed before passengers clamber inside. Old people slip on the sidewalks. And the unhoused entreat the municipalities to keep the shelters open around the clock. But even so, nature’s long exhalation of cold air provides pleasant relief for a mind dreading the coming warmth. 

Unusual Snow on Esja Slopes

esja mountain reykjavik

Reykjavík residents and visitors may have noticed a distinctive stripe on Esja’s slopes in the last few days.

As can be seen, a white band of snow stretches up Esja’s slope for about 300m. Above the 300m mark there is much less snow, and in many places no snow at all, leading to the interesting band of colour.

The Meteorological Office of Iceland claims on social media that they’ve received many questions about the phenomenon and have provided a brief public explanation.

Typically, we see the opposite on mountain slopes: white peaks, with bare sides. This is because the higher the elevation, the lower the average temperature. So precipitation falling at the peak is much more likely to be snow, while precipitation falling on the slopes may simply turn to rain.

The pattern visible on Esja for the last few days, according to the Meteorological Office, can be explained by a cycle of freezing and thawing.

Average temperatures have been very low in Iceland his winter, but data shows brief temperature spikes in low-lying areas. These warming periods, followed by continued cold averages, create a cycle of thawing and re-freezing that compacts the snow, making it denser and icier.

However, because the peaks have remained at freezing temperatures, the snow at higher elevations has remained powdery. Powdery snow is of course more susceptible to wind and is more likely to be blown away in storms. The Meteorological Office pointed out the night of January 8-9 as especially windy, with recorded wind speeds of 20 m/s (45 mph). Sure enough, the next day was when the distinctive snow pattern became visible.

Work Group to Submit Report on Reykjanesbraut Closure

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson

A work group appointed by Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson to review the closure of Reykjanesbraut in December is expected to submit a draft plan to the Ministry of Infrastructure next week, Mbl.is reports. The closure of Reykjanesbraut led to numerous flight cancellations and delays.

Reykjanesbraut closure leads to flight cancellations, delays

Following heavy snow in the capital area during the days leading up to Christmas, Reykjanesbraut – the road leading to Keflavík Airport – became impassable. The closure led to numerous flight delays and cancellations, with many travellers expressing their criticism of the Icelandic authorities.

Speaking to Mbl.is in December, Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannson stated that the situation was unacceptable: “I have to say, right now, we have to get over this and ensure, as far as that’s possible, that Reykjanesbraut is not closed while the airport is open.”

Sigurður Ingi subsequently appointed a work group composed of representatives from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, the National Police Commissioner, and the Suðurnes police chief. The work group was tasked with reviewing the events in December and drafting a plan on how best to deal with similar situations.

“We are working hard on the report in collaboration with these groups,” Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, Director of Communications for the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told Mbl.is this morning. The work group is expected to submit its report on Tuesday, January 10.

“We scrutinise everything we do, so it’s natural for us to scrutinise this,” she added.

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.

Keflavík Flights Impacted by Winter Weather

Keflavík Airport

The winter weather that hit the Capital Region over the weekend is causing delays and cancellations to flights out of Keflavík International Airport.

Eight flights were canceled to the country last night, including all flights from the US. 

Additional delays to flight from and to Europe are expected today as well.

The Meteorological Office has issued a yellow weather warning for much of the country, and an orange weather warning for Southeast Iceland.

Stay up to date with the Meteorological Office’s weather warnings here.

Travelers are advised to contact their airline for further information, in addition to checking flight times at the airport’s website.

It’s Going to be a White Christmas, Meteorologists Say

Toddlers in Iceland in Winter

According to current weather forecasts, this year’s Christmas will be white; snow will fall tonight in the capital area and will continue to fall on Saturday.

Twenty below temperatures already recorded

The current cold spell, which began early last week, is predicted to last until Christmas Day. In light of the continued frost, the snow that is expected to fall tonight and tomorrow in the capital area (West and Southwest Iceland) is unlikely to melt before Christmas. The next few days should also see snow in other parts of the country.

In an interview with Mbl.is yesterday, a meteorologist with the Icelandic MET Office confirmed that current forecasts predict “light snow” over the holidays and that the current cold spell was expected to last at least ten more days.

During this time, temperatures are expected to range between 2°C and 20°C, the latter temperature having already been recorded at Grímsstaðir á Fjöllum and Hólasandur in Northeast Iceland. It has also been very cold in the highlands of Iceland.

Record Precipitation in Reykjavík Last Month

extreme weather storm Sundlaugavegur

March was unusually wet and snowy across South, Southeast, and West Iceland this year, with record amounts of precipitation in several locations. Precipitation in Reykjavík last month measured three times the monthly average between 1991 and 2020, and was more than has ever been recorded for the month of March. The data is from the Icelandic Met Office’s monthly weather review.

Precipitation in Reykjavík last month measured 209.5 mm, making it the wettest/snowiest March since weather monitoring began. March 1923 is in second place, with 183.2 mm. March 2022 had heavy precipitation even compared to other months of the year. Monthly precipitation has only been measured higher four times in Reykjavík: in November 1993, February 1921, January 1907, and November 1958. January 1842 and December 1843 were also exceptionally rainy, but the measurements for those months are unconfirmed.

Considering the amount of rain and snow, it’s not surprising that March was not particularly sunny in the nation’s capital. Reykjavík only had 68.5 hours of sunshine last month, which is 41.8 hours below the March average between 1991 and 2020. Akureyri, North Iceland, on the other hand, had 112.1 sunshine hours in March, which is 34.3 hours more than the average for that month between the same time frame. Akureyri has not experienced a March with as much sunshine since 1996.

Reykjavík had 14 snowy days last month, five more than average; while Akureyri experienced 11, which is five fewer than average between the years 1991 and 2020.