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 

Flooding in Akureyri, Storms Hit North and East Iceland Over Weekend

storms iceland 2022

Storms over the weekend have left much of Akureyri flooded. Streets affected include Norðurgata, Gránufélagsgata, and Eiðsvallagata.

The flooding followed bad storms which shook much of Iceland over the weekend, leaving considerable property damage in their wake.

In a public statement on Facebook, the North Iceland police force have asked residents to not travel unnecessarily, and to not drive in the streets.

Much of the country was under yellow and orange weather warnings over the weekend, with especially bad conditions in the east and southeast. The East Fjords were under a rare red weather warning, with recorded wind speeds up to 64m/s (143 mph).

In a statement to Morgunblaðið, chairman of the regional board of rescue teams in East Iceland Sveinn Halldór Zoëga said he “doesn’t remember such extensive damage.” In the east, Seyðisfjörður and Reyðarfjörður were hit especially hard, with dramatic photos of the damage being shared on social media.

Search and rescue teams were busy, with Sveinn reporting some 50 calls near Seyðisfjörður and Reyðarfjörður. In total, some 200 search and rescue calls went out over the weekend, with 350 volunteers at work. Although extensive property damage was reported, no one is reported to have been injured in the storms.

Another Low Front Expected This Weekend in East Iceland

A woman walking two young children through the snow

A yellow weather alert will be in effect for northeastern Iceland from late Saturday afternoon and until early Sunday morning. Iceland Review spoke to a meteorologist at the Icelandic MET Office yesterday to inquire about the storm – and the inordinate number of lows that have passed through Iceland this winter.

(The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

“Is it finally over?”

“Are the storms finally over?” I inquire, in a tone of hollow hopefulness, of meteorologist Óli Þór Árnason with the Icelandic MET Office.

Thursday saw yet another yellow weather warning in the capital area (my mother-in-law’s flight to Ísafjörður was cancelled).

“Well, no, that’s the simple answer,” he replies. “We’ll have another low front Saturday evening, and it’ll last into the morning. The weather will be quite divided. You’ll have sharp southerlies and warm temperatures to the east – exactly what you’d like to see here in the south, to get rid of the snow, you know? – and then you’ll have slow-moving northerly winds in the south and west of the country.”

“Hmmm,” I say, taking notes.

“It’ll be black and white – and I’ll let you decide which part is black and which part is white.”

“Thank you so much for that, for respecting independent journalism. Listen, doesn’t this bother you?”

“Yes, no, you know I’d like to see a little more spring in the weather. Less south-westerly winds and less hail. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be much of a problem.”

“You know, this is the first time in my life that the weather has really bothered me. Like really bothered me. I’m 36 years old, but for the first time in my life, I’m exasperated.”

“It was like this all the time before the turn of the century. This kind of weather was much more common back then. Probably your memory’s playing tricks on you.”

“Maybe you’re right; I was in the States from 97 to 2002 – and then in the early ‘90s as well.”

“Yes, it’s not exactly advisable, making such comparisons.”

“So, let me get this straight, none of this is bothering you at all?”

“No, I’m fine, pretty much. March can be a little tricky, but then the low fronts start subsiding. The main motor for these storms, that cold puddle just west of Greenland, which has been quite active in feeding this kind of weather, is gradually getting warmer. And you can feel it. There are changes in the air. The sun’s climbing higher.”

“But things don’t look great, in the long-term, do they?”

“You mean like global-warming?”

“Yes, that’s what I mean.”

“Well, we won’t be breeding crocodiles in Iceland anytime soon if that’s what you mean. But, yes, there’ll be more heat and more humidity. More bursts of precipitation. The best indicator of global warming is the fact that the alcohol content of certain wines is rising, because they’re growing at higher temperatures.”

“Thank you, for your time. It’s been enlightening.”

(For more updates on the weather, visit vedur.is)

 

 

 

Year in Review 2020: Nature

Spanning across new national parks, devastating mudslides, and ambitious climate goals, here’s a summary of Iceland’s biggest nature news stories of 2020.

National Parks and Nature Conservation

Several of Iceland’s popular natural areas were officially protected this year by the Ministry for the Environment, including the Geysir area and Goðafoss waterfall in North Iceland. Other big conservation projects are in the works: In the Westfjords, Dynjandi waterfall was given to the state as a gift and a national park is to be established around it. Snæfellsnes National Park is also set to be expanded.

Possibly the biggest nature story of the year is the proposal to make Iceland’s Central Highland into Europe’s largest national park, covering around 30% of Iceland. This would also make it the national park that represents the highest percentage of the total area of any country, with over 40,000 km² of the total 103,000 km² surface area of Iceland. A bill outlining the park’s establishment was introduced in Parliament by Iceland’s Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson on November 30. However, it is still being hotly debated in parliament and has yet to be passed. Learn more about the proposed Highland National Park.

Magma and Earthquakes in Southwest Iceland

In late January, Icelandic authorities declared a state of uncertainty due to possible magma accumulation a few kilometres west of Þorbjörn mountain. Land rise and earthquake swarms were detected in the area, suggesting magma was accumulating underground. Nearby residents prepared for a possible eruption, though authorities stated it was more likely the activity would calm without one, and that has indeed been the case. Land rise under the mountain stopped by early May, though experts say there is an “active long-term process” ongoing in the area and the possibility of renewed activity cannot be discounted.

Storms and Avalanches

Three large avalanches swept across the Westfjords in January, hitting Flateyri and Súgandafjörður. Their timing was chilling: they occurred one day before the 25th anniversary of a deadly avalanche in the same area that killed 14. Though no one was killed, the avalanches caused property damage and one 13-year-old girl was rescued after being buried in snow for half an hour. Iceland Review interviewed photographer Ragnar Axelsson, who witnessed and captured on film the aftermath of both the 1995 and 2020 events.

No Icelandic winter passes without at least one winter storm. Extreme weather on Valentine’s Day caused travel disruptions, power outages, and property damage. ICE-SAR teams across the country responded to nearly 800 calls in a single day due to the storm.

Resource Extraction

While Iceland’s government protected many natural areas this year, others may soon be used for new resource extraction projects. A large area in South Iceland containing historic site Hjörleifshöfði was sold to a sand mining company while one Canadian mining company acquired all the rights to gold mining in Iceland. St-Georges Eco-Mining hopes to use robots and geothermal energy to mine “eco-friendly” gold on the island.

Climate Goals

In December 2020, Iceland’s government revised its climate goals, stating it would now aim for a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030, rather than 40% as was decided at the beginning of the current government’s term. The revised policy means Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be 55% lower in 2030 than they were in 1990. Iceland plans to become carbon neutral by 2040. Though it seems to be acting on climate goals now, Iceland’s Environment Minister stated in November that the country could owe billions due to not fulfilling its previous commitments to the Kyoto protocol.

Seyðisfjörður Mudslides

The year ended on a tragic note for residents of Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland when a series of mudslides destroyed more than a dozen homes and historic buildings in the town. Luckily no fatalities resulted from the catastrophic events, though the town was evacuated and many local families did not get to return to their homes for Christmas. The government has pledged its support in rebuilding the town, though it will likely take months to even assess the extent of the damage.