With Plover’s Arrival, Spring Officially Begins in Iceland

golden plover in iceland

Last Friday, a European golden plover was spotted in Garður, a town in the western portion of Suðurnes peninsula, Vísir reports, and in Iceland that means one thing overall: spring has returned. Guðmundur Hjörtur Falk Jóhannesson saw four of the birds in the village last Friday, and was able to snap a few photos.

According to Icelandic tradition, the arrival of the plover is the herald of spring, migrating as they do to the island as the months begin to get warmer. While this could be said for many birds migrating to and from Iceland, the golden plover likely stands out due to the fact that a whole third of the world’s entire golden plover population nests in Iceland.

This is reflected in Icelandic folklore as well. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the poem “Lóan er komin” by the Icelandic poet Páll Ólafsson, who penned this verse in around 1875:

The plover has arrived to bid the snow farewell
to bid boredom farewell, that she does.
She has told me that soon the whimbrel will come,
sunshine in valleys and blossoms in fields.
She has told me of my sins,
I sleep too much and I don’t work much.
She has told me to wake up and work
and with great hopefulness welcome the summer.

This poem, like more than a few Icelandic poems, has been set to song, and has featured a number of creative arrangements.

For the record, the vernal equinox–that is, the actual first day of spring–for the northern hemisphere was on March 20th.

Before You Go: How to Pack for Spring and Fall in Iceland

People in the rain on Skólavörðustígur street, Reykjavík.

If you‘re planning a trip to Iceland, you‘ve no doubt heard that the weather here is unpredictable. This is true for every season, but even more so for spring and fall. Both are pretty cold, with temperatures swinging from 0°C [32°F] to 7°C [44°F], and both have the potential for storms and precipitation. However, they are also the most erratic seasons. They frequently lean more into the lines of summer or winter, so check the weather forecast before finalising your packing list. The following are suggestions for what to bring on your fall or spring trip to Iceland that suits the typical circumstances. You might want to scale it up or down depending on which way the weather is expected to swing while you‘re here. 

The basics of dressing for the Icelandic spring and fall

Layering up is the best way to be prepared for the range of weather situations you might encounter in Iceland. Doing this allows you to quickly adapt to changing conditions. You‘ll want to bring:

  • Long trousers
  • Long sleeved tops
  • A thick sweater
  • A water resistant jacket and overtrousers of the same sort
  • Consider thermal underwear, particularly if the forecast is cold, windy and/or wet
  • A hat
  • Gloves
  • A scarf 

In terms of shoes, bring lighter shoes, like trainers, and more robust water resistant ones suitable for diverse terrain. If you don‘t have room for extra shoes in your suitcase, go for the water resistant ones. These will be better suited for any nature trips you might be taking. 

Adventure add-ins

If you’re going all in on the phenomenal Icelandic nature with higher energy outdoor activities, like climbing or hiking, the packing list will be similar to the above recommendations. The main difference is that you should pay more attention to the materials of your clothing. Go for:

  • Thermal underwear
  • Comfortable pants
  • Woollen socks
  • A woollen sweater
  • Proper hiking shoes
  • A breathable, water resistant jacket and overtrousers of the same sort 
  • Mittens
  • A hat or headband
  • A scarf or warm buff

We advise you to prioritise wool, which has the excellent quality of keeping you warm even when wet, and to avoid both non-breathable materials and cotton. Cotton gets cold when wet, and non-breathable materials trap moisture, lessening your chances of staying warm. 

Additional items 

What Is Iceland Like in the Spring and Fall?

Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland

Icelandic nature during shoulder seasons

During fall, Iceland’s nature takes on a unique palate of orange, maroon, and moss green, making autumn in Iceland a treat for your eyes. During the spring, the empty branches start blooming after a long winter’s rest, and the grass turns green again. Both fall and spring are excellent times to observe the rich birdlife of Iceland, as migrant birds pass through during this time. The well-known Atlantic Puffins arrive in April and stay until September. You can see the puffins in several places, but the most convenient way is to take a boat tour to Akurey island or Lundey island from Reykjavík harbour.

The weather in Iceland during fall and spring

During any season, Iceland’s weather can change often and quickly. Sometimes, you can even experience all four seasons in just one day! For this reason, it is best to be prepared and regularly check for weather updates and road conditions. In the fall, the average temperature is 4-7°C [39-45°F], and in the spring, 0-7°C [32-45°F]. In the spring, the daylight is, on average, 15 hours. During fall, it averages 10 hours. Fall and spring bring more rain than the other seasons, so bringing water-resistant coats and footwear may be a good idea.

The roads in Iceland

Route 1, often referred to as “the ring road”, will take you around the island with clear road signs and paved roads. However, some remote locations may only be accessible by gravel roads. You will not be able to travel to the Highland, as the F-roads that take you there are only open from June to August.

Foggy road in Iceland
Photo: Golli.

Driving safe

Due to rainfall, water can accumulate in the roads’ tyre tracks or other dips, causing hydroplaning. If this happens, slow down by letting go of the accelerator and pump lightly on the break if needed. Note that rain, fog, and snow can reduce visibility, especially during the darker hours. Make sure to never stop in the middle of the road or enter closed roads; it is illegal and can cause serious accidents. In case of an emergency, call 112. Make sure to bring essentials such as warm clothing, snacks and beverages, and to have a GPS/map at hand. It is good to familiarise yourself with Icelandic road signs before driving. For information regarding weather and road conditions, you can call 1777. With some preparation and research, you can have a safe and adventurous journey!

Northern lights in Iceland during spring and fall

Late fall and early spring are good times to see the northern lights, though never guaranteed. You can catch them yourself from wherever the skies are clear, but tours are available to see the northern lights shining brighter from better vantage points. The tours usually run from mid-September to mid-April, as the rest of the year brings too much daylight to see the aurora. You can view the northern lights forecast here. Note that the white areas on the map indicate clear skies and a higher chance of seeing them. You will see numbers in the upper right corner representing their activity level.

What is there to do in the spring and fall in Iceland?

Inside:

Iceland offers a diverse range of museums. In Reykjavík, Perlan museum has interesting interactive exhibitions presenting virtual northern lights and a man-made glacier, in addition to educational exhibitions on natural history and geology. Other museums in Reykjavík include the Maritime Museum, the Whale Museum, the National Museum of Iceland, and the Reykjavík Art Museum. Iceland offers a variety of restaurants and cafes where you can experience both Icelandic and foreign cuisine. You can browse Iceland’s unique art, clothing, and jewellery designs in local shops around the country.

Perlan Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland
Photo: Perlan Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland

Outside:

Hikes in areas such as Heiðmörk nature reserve and Þingvellir national park will bring you a new appreciation of the scenic nature of Iceland through lava, moss, lakes, and rich history. Road trips to the villages and towns of Iceland are a great way to experience authentic Icelandic culture. To keep warm during cold days, submerge yourself in some of Iceland’s many geothermal pools and lagoons. Mountains, black sand beaches, waterfalls, glaciers, and geysers are some of the natural wonders of Iceland worth exploring, whether on your own or by going on various excursions.

As summer and winter are the peak seasons of tourism in Iceland, fall and spring are more affordable for flights and accommodation while bringing fewer crowds. Whether chasing the aurora, exploring Iceland’s nature and its wildlife, or immersing yourself in the local culture, the shoulder seasons provide fascinating scenery for a vacation to remember.

 

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.

“Good Spring Weather” Ahead Following Historically Cold March

According to long-term forecasts, this April could be one of the warmest on record. A meteorologist has told Vísir that warm air is expected over the country after the weekend, with “good spring weather” anticipated around the first day of summer.

A quick transition from the coldest March in 44 years

Temperatures have remained above average this month, marking a quick transition from the coldest March on record in 44 years. April could also become historic, albeit for happier reasons, according to meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson who expects good spring weather next week.

“A predicted high-pressure area over the British Isles, along with milder air from the southeast, is expected to bring very mild weather in the coming week, potentially around the first day of summer,” Einar, who also forecasts the weather on the website Blika.is, told Vísir.

According to the Norwegian Meteorological Agency’s long-term forecast, temperatures could reach double digits next week. Einar preferred to remain grounded: “A temperature range between 5-9°C is considered good for the month of April – and if one can feel the warmth of the sun during this time,” Einar noted. He warned that if the trend of warm weather continues, April could be considered an extreme weather month, similar to April 2019, provided there are no sudden changes in the last week.

April 2019 was the warmest in many parts of the country since the beginning of measurements; the average temperature in Reykjavík was 6.5°C. Einar told Vísir that it was, however, too early to say whether this year’s First Day of Summer (Thursday, April 20) would also mark the actual start of summer.

“Cold spells with snow or rain can manifest themselves in this country throughout May and until June. But after this cold winter, it would be great to have a sunny and warm May to get rid of the ice from the ground and better prepare us for the arrival of summer,” Einar concluded by saying.

Arctic Tern Returns to Iceland

arctic tern kría Iceland

The Arctic tern has returned to Iceland, RÚV reports. The bird is one of a number migratory birds that are making their annual return to the country this spring.

According to the records kept by the Southeast Iceland Bird Observatory, which monitors the annual arrival of migratory birds in the country, about 1,000 terns were observed in the Ósland conservation area in Höfn í Hornafjörður earlier this week.

Per their records, the first Arctic tern arrived in Iceland on April 19. This is around the same time that the first terns arrived in recent years.

The arctic tern makes the longest known migration of any animal, travelling between Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, where it breeds, to the Antarctic, where it winters, each year. Birds that nest in Iceland make a round trip that averages 70,900km (44,055mi) every year between their nesting and wintering grounds. The average arctic tern will travel some 2.4 million kilometres (1.5 million miles) during its lifetime, the equivalent of over three roundtrips from Earth to the Moon.

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.

Rivers in Outer Reykjavík Flood Their Banks

The Elliðaár River flooded its banks in several places on Sunday afternoon, RÚV reports. The deluge comes in the wake of significant thawing this weekend, which has increased flow into rivers around the country. Daníel Freyr Jónsson, one of four geologists who manages the Facebook group Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands (‘Volcano and natural hazards group of South Iceland’) documented the flooding.

Daníel Freyr Jónsson, Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands (FB)

The Elliðaár river is fed by Lake Ellíðavatn on the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. The river forks in the district of Árbær, where it bounds the Elliðaárdalur valley, a popular outdoor recreation area. Lake Ellíðavatn also feeds several other rivers, including the Bugða and Hólmsá rivers. According to the Met Office, flow into both the Bugða and Hólmsá rivers has increased significantly over the weekend; flow into the Hólmsá tripled in just over 24 hours between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.

Daníel Freyr Jónsson, Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands (FB)

Sunday’s flooding took place in the Víðidalur valley, not far from where Breiðhóltsvegur crosses the Elliðaár river. Large areas of vegetation and footpaths were also submerged around the Norðlingaholt neighbourhood and the Rauðhólar pseudo-craters where the Bugða river overflowed its banks as well.

Daníel Freyr Jónsson, Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands (FB)

Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands credits the flooding in Norðlingaholt in part to human intervention, as the pedestrian and horse bridge there significantly narrows the Bugða river. As of noon on Sunday, the water level of the Bugða river had almost reached the bridge floor.

 

 

Spring on the Wing – Golden Plover Arrives in Iceland

Golden Plover Iceland

Iceland’s herald of spring, the migratory golden plover, has arrived in the country. The first birds were spotted in the southeastern region yesterday, March 20, according to the Southeast Iceland Bird Observatory. Other migratory bird species, including white-fronted geese and pink-footed geese, have been spotted returning to their nesting grounds in small groups. Iceland is a key breeding area for many bird species: one-third of the world’s golden plovers, for example, breed on the island.

This winter has been a particularly snowy and stormy one across Iceland. A series of storms hit the country last month, bringing record snowfall to the Reykjavík area. As a result, local hardware stores sold out of snow shovels, blowers and scrapers in February. As most of the country is still a wintry wonderland, the golden plover is likely locals’ first true sign that spring is on its way.

Snow Shovels, Blowers, and Scrapers Sell Out in February

snow shovelling

February was a difficult month weather-wise in Iceland, with a record number of weather warnings and snowfall. Vísir reports that conditions were so unprecedented that Húsasmiðjan, Iceland’s largest DIY and hardware store chain, sold out of snow shovels, snowblowers, and snow scrapers in February, with sales increasing by 140% over February of last year.

Although there was an unusually high demand in the capital area, the need for snow-clearing tools wasn’t restricted to a particular region. According to Húsasmiðjan marketing director Magnús Magnússon, snow shovels sold out in the company’s warehouse and most of the chain’s locations around the country.

“We’ve not sold so many snow shovels in years, especially in the capital area,” Magnús remarked. “We’ve also had a big increase in the sale of salt, sand, crampons, and even garden hoses, as people are melting snow and ice with hot water.”

The company is making efforts to replenish its stock, but Magnús says that demand is expected to drop as Iceland makes its way into the spring.