VIDEO: Winter Returns to Iceland – Snowstorm in June

Winter has returned to Iceland!

Officially, summer should have already started in Iceland in late April – at least according to the old Icelandic calendar. But since the beginning of the week, a low-pressure front has brought back the Arctic winter in full force – in June.

Yesterday, Art and Alina travelled to Akureyri to witness an unusual summer storm that unexpectedly hit the North and East of Iceland, blanketing the landscapes with snow and ice just as they were eagerly awaiting summer.

You can now watch our report on this unusual weather phenomenon on our YouTube channel!

You can catch our previous video in the series here.

Wintry Weather to Continue in North and East Iceland

Vaðlaheiði tunnel, North Iceland

The cold spell that has brought snowstorms to North Iceland this week is expected to continue into the weekend, the Icelandic Met Office reports. Yellow and orange weather alerts will be in effect across much of the country throughout today. Travellers are encouraged to check weather conditions and road conditions before setting out.

The weather forecast predicts continued gale-force winds and precipitation into the weekend in North and East Iceland, bringing precipitation in the form of sleet, snow, or rain. Mountain roads in North and East Iceland are still impassable in many places. Orange warnings go into effect in the Westfjords and Northwest Iceland this afternoon.

The weather in the north and east is expected to calm for some time tomorrow, but another low front will come in tomorrow evening that is expected to bring precipitation to the region, lasting into Saturday morning. The weather on Friday and Saturday is, however, expected to be less extreme than what the regions have experienced during the week. Temperatures are expected to remain below 10°C in North and East Iceland until next week.

June Snowstorms in Iceland this Week

winter weather road snow

Snowstorms, gale-force winds, rain, and sleet are in the forecast across Iceland this week. Orange and yellow weather alerts have been issued across the country starting this evening and lasting until Thursday. Travellers are encouraged to check weather conditions and road conditions before setting out.

The Icelandic Met Office has issued orange weather alerts for the Northwest, Northeast, East, and Southeast regions and the uninhabited Central Highland starting this evening. Snow is expected in most of those regions throughout Tuesday, as well as strong winds reaching gusts of up to 23 metres per second. Roads, particularly mountain roads, may become impassable and livestock may need adequate shelter, according to the Met Office.

Yellow weather alerts have been issued for the Southwest, West, and Westfjords regions starting tomorrow morning. Strong winds are expected in those regions and locals are encouraged to secure outdoor furniture and belongings to ensure safety. There may be snow on roads, particularly mountain roads, in Breiðafjörður and the Westfjords, but no snow is expected in West or Southwest Iceland, including the Reykjavík capital area.

The unseasonable weather is expected to continue into the week. A yellow weather alert has been issued country-wide for Wednesday and Thursday.

The Weather in Iceland: What to Expect and How to Read the Weather Report

A person walking a dog in a snowstorm.

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, you’ve probably heard that in addition to northern lights and the magical midnight sun, it’s also famous for unpredictable weather. Constantly keeping the Icelandic people on their toes, it can change directions in an instant, sometimes even going so far as to offer all four seasons in a single day. Despite this uncertainty, staying up to date with the forecast is an important part of keeping yourself safe and comfortable. It allows you to plan ahead for packing, and travel-wise prevents you from getting caught in potentially dangerous situations. The Icelandic Met Office forecast, available on their website and app, is the best place to check. It provides detailed and up-to-date information about the expected weather and alerts you to extreme conditions. Below, you will find everything you need to know about what you can expect from the weather in Iceland and how to read the weather report.

What’s the weather like in Iceland?

Generally, temperatures fluctuate between -10 °C [14 °F] and 20°C [68°F] over the year, with January being the coldest month and July the warmest. Storms, often accompanied by snow or rain, are frequent from September to March but far less common during summer. 

This is not to say that the weather in Iceland is all storms and rain that slaps you in the face. The fall and winter days can be quite beautiful, with clear skies and frosty ground or snow that falls calmly to the ground, and the spring and summer usually offer some exceptional days of sun and warmth as well. 

Given this unpredictability, it’s imperative for your safety and comfort that you check the weather forecast a few days before your trip and stay informed throughout it. The weather often catches people off guard, leaving them cold and uncomfortable, a situation that can easily be avoided by checking the forecast and dressing in the right clothes. Likewise, knowing when extreme weather is expected can spare you from getting yourself into a potentially dangerous situation, such as driving on a mountain road in a blinding snowstorm.

Weather alerts

The most important thing to know about the Icelandic weather report is how the colour-coded alert system works. Alerts are issued in cases of extreme weather and are a convenient way to quickly get the lay of the land. As mentioned above, snowstorms, rainstorms, and windstorms are common during fall and winter, and keeping an eye out for alerts is essential for your safety. They are less common during spring and summer, but we advise you to check for them nonetheless, especially if you’re driving around the country or going up to the Highland.

The alert system is simple and easy to understand. It has three colours, each representing a different severity level: yellow, orange, and red. You’ll see the warnings in the top right corner of the Icelandic Met Office homepage. There’s a small blue map of Iceland there which will display the different colours in correspondence with the weather in each part of the country – north, west, south, east, and the Highland. You can click on each section of the country to get more specific information about the issued warnings, what they entail and where they apply.

Screenshot of the weather alert map from the Icelandic MET Office, showing a yellow alert for wind.
Screenshot of the weather alert map from the Icelandic MET Office, showing a yellow alert for wind.

A yellow alert is the least extreme, and although it probably won’t be pleasant to spend the day outside, you can usually go about your business uninterrupted. Just be mindful of wind gusts and things that might be blowing around. If you had a hike planned, you should postpone it to another day, as the weather is usually more extreme in the mountains. You should also be extra careful driving around, especially in the countryside. Wind gusts can easily catch you off guard if you’re not prepared for them, leading to accidents. 

An orange alert means that the weather can be dangerous, and people are advised not to take unnecessary trips outside. A red alert is the most extreme, indicating a level of emergency. It’s relatively uncommon that a red alert is issued, but in case you encounter one while you’re here, prepare to kick back and have a cosy day inside. You should only leave the house in case of emergencies.

For all stages of alerts, it’s important to be mindful of your surroundings and take caution when moving around, both on foot and in a car. If you’re staying in a home with a patio, balcony, or garden, and there is any furniture or other loose items, secure them so they won’t blow away. You could, for example, move the items inside or stack them in a sheltered corner. Any level of alert could result in cancelled trips, delays in transportation, and closed roads. 

If the map in the upper right corner is entirely blue, there is no warning, and you can proceed with your plans uninterrupted. 

The classic weather map

To get a closer look at the weather, you can check out the map labelled ‘whole country’. It’s a classic weather report map using sun and cloud symbols to display the expected weather – sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy. Temperature is shown in Celsius beside the symbols, with a red number if it’s above freezing and a blue one if it’s below. Wind predictions are displayed as meters per second, with an arrow indicating the wind direction. Both the number and the arrows are black.

Screenshot of the classic weather map from the Icelandic MET Office.
Screenshot of the classic weather map from the Icelandic MET Office.

 

Use the sliding bar below the map to move back and forth in time, and click on the map to zoom in. Doing so will also give you more locations to look at. By hovering over a sun/cloud symbol, you’ll get basic written information about the weather in that location, and by clicking on it, a six-day forecast for the area will appear below the map.

In-depth weather report

In addition to the typical forecast map, you can find separate maps for temperature, wind, and precipitation predictions. These are colour-coded and more specific than the all-in-one map. 

The wind map shows the expected wind at 10 metres [33 feet] height. The arrows across the map indicate the direction of the wind, and the colours indicate speed. Green tones represent a wind speed of 0-8 metres per second, blue tones 8-16, purple tones 16-24, and red tones anything above that.

The temperature map shows the expected temperature at two metres [6.6 feet] height. The lowest temperatures are shown in green tones, each tone representing 2°C temperature intervals. As the heat increases, the colour tones will change to blue, yellow, orange, and red, with red representing the highest temperatures. 

 

Screenshot of the temperature map from the Icelandic MET Office.
Screenshot of the temperature map from the Icelandic MET Office.

The precipitation map shows the cumulative precipitation levels over a 1-hour, 3-hour or 6-hour period. The colours range from light yellow, indicating light precipitation of 0.1 mm [0.004 inches] per hour, to red, indicating heavy precipitation of 50 mm [2 inches] per hour. The map will also show you the direction and speed of the wind with wind barbs, the point of which will tell you the direction of the wind. Diagonal lines at the end of the barb symbolise wind speed. An increase in the length and number of lines means stronger winds. If the wind reaches 25 m/s, a triangle will be at the barb’s end. The lines across the map indicate mean sea level pressure.

 

The wind, temperature, and precipitation maps all have the same sliding bar function as the basic map, but you cannot zoom in on it or choose specific locations. 

Blackout and Snow Storm Cause Dozens of Car Crashes

Reykjavík from above, housing crisis Iceland

A power outage coincided with a snow storm in Reykjavík yesterday afternoon, leading to traffic chaos. A number of central neighbourhoods experienced blackouts due to a high-voltage breakdown, while at the same time, motorists braved the storm with little help from malfunctioning traffic lights.

“What happened is that it snowed a lot in a very short amount of time, the snow got compressed down and became very slippery,” Árni Friðleifsson of the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police told RÚV.

Around 30 traffic accidents had been reported to roadside assistance firm Arekstur when RÚV contacted them in the late afternoon. “We’ve dispatched all our cars and the traffic is completely halted,” said Arekstur CEO Kristján Kristjánsson.

Hospitals on back-up power

Due to the power outage, Landspítali hospitals in Fossvogur and at Hringbraut had to pull from back-up power. This was also the case for Reykjavík airport (RVK), which mostly services domestic flights. However, while both the airport itself and the air traffic control centre were operational, a blackout at the terminal delayed a flight to Akureyri for about an hour, as all luggage had to be manually checked in.

By evening, power had been restored. The rush hour traffic cleared up as traffic lights came back on and the storm cleared.

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.

ICE-SAR Spends Weekend on Rescue Calls Due to Avalanches, Snowy Roadways

Cars trapped on the road

Search and Rescue volunteers around Iceland had their hands full this weekend, as punishing snowstorms and gale-force winds pummelled the country with no signs of abating come Monday. RÚV reports that an orange weather warning went into effect for the whole country on Sunday evening and is expected to be in place until 8 am on Tuesday. It’s possible that the warning level will be elevated to red in South Iceland, depending on how conditions develop.

Ten-Year-Old Boy Rescued from Avalanche in Hveragerði

A Search and Rescue team in Hveragerði, South Iceland was called out on Saturday afternoon to help rescue a ten-year-old boy who had been buried in snow. The boy had been playing with his 14-year-old brother at the base of a rock wall when the accumulated snow slid off the top and buried him.

The boy’s brother acted quickly, locating his brother under the snow, digging away the snow to uncover his face, and calling the 112 emergency line for assistance.

ICE-SAR arrived at the scene, finished unburying the boy, and transported him to the hospital in an ambulance. As of 2:00 pm, when the local police posted about the incident on Facebook, the boy was recovering well. Police reminded locals to be particularly cautious, as there was ongoing risk of avalanches in the area.

Sixty Cars Stuck on Roadway near Sólheimasandur

Heavy snowfall in South Iceland created even more trouble early Saturday evening. Nearly 60 cars became stuck on the road near the Sólheimasandur glacial outwash plain not far from the Jökulsá river. Some of the cars became stuck in the snow, and some of them were simply trapped behind the stuck cars.

ICE-SAR was called out to dig the cars out and manage the ensuing traffic jam.

Commuters in Reykjavík were faced with similar headaches on Saturday, particularly in the upper neighbourhoods. Many cars got stuck in the snow and there were also a handful of weather-related traffic accidents.

Homes Evacuated Due to Avalanche Risk

Buildings in two Westfjords towns have been evacuated due to avalanche risk, the Icelandic Met Office reports. Severe weather in the region and heavy snowfall on the mountains led to the decision to evacuate homes and other buildings in the towns of Flateyri and Patreksfjörður and nearby areas. The Icelandic Met Office is monitoring the situation closely in consultation with the Department of Civil Protection.

Recent Flateyri avalanches

Two avalanches fell in the town of Flateyri this past January. While no serious injuries were sustained, the town’s harbour was decimated and many fishing boats destroyed. Three avalanches fell outside the town in late February as well. This year marks the 25th anniversary of two fatal avalanches in Flateyri and nearby Súðavík.

Blizzard in Northwest Iceland throughout today

A Northeasterly blizzard is currently underway in the Westfjords and Northwest Iceland. Extreme weather conditions are expected to continue in the region until this evening. Considerable snowfall and gale-force winds are expected in the region, particularly in the Westfjords. The storm will move east this evening, affecting North Iceland.