Iceland Weather: Storms, Road Closures, and Avalanche Risk

winter tires reykjavík

Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) is currently closed over Öxnadalsheiði heath, between Akureyri and Reykjavík, due to weather. Yellow weather warnings have also been issued across much of the country today due to strong winds. The Icelandic Met Office declared an “uncertainty phase” in the East Fjords this morning due to the risk of avalanches.

Seyðisfjörður alavanche risk

There was heavy precipitation in Seyðisfjörður last night, with continuing precipitation at higher elevations and a strong E-ENE wind in the mountains, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office. Precipitation should slow throughout the day, and the wind speed is expected to slow and change direction to a northerly. Experts are monitoring conditions closely.

Strong winds and blowing snow

Gale-force winds are expected today across much of Iceland, including the Westfjords, West, North, East, and Southeast. Wind speeds in these areas could reach speeds of 20 metres per second. Blowing snow is in the forecast for most of these regions as well. Poor driving conditions can be expected as a result of weather, as well as traffic disruptions and road closures.

Travellers and affected residents are encouraged to monitor weather and road conditions before setting out.

Yellow Weather Warning Across South Iceland

yellow weather warning Feb 1 2024

Heavy rain and extreme thawing are expected across the Reykjavík capital area, as well as the western, southern, and southwest regions of Iceland tonight. The Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow weather alerts for the regions between 8:00 PM this evening and 6:00 AM tomorrow morning.

Rain and rapidly rising temperatures are expected to cause higher water levels in rivers and streams as well as an increased risk of flooding. Locals are advised to clear grates to prevent flood damage from rain and meltwater. Conditions are also expected to be slippery, due to rainfall on ice and compressed snow. Travellers are encouraged to exercise caution and monitor weather forecasts and road conditions regularly.

No Red Weather Warnings in Iceland in 2023

weather warning map

No red weather alerts were issued in Iceland last year. The year’s weather was relatively calm, at least when considering the number of weather warnings issued. The total number of warnings issued by the Icelandic Met Office was 311, which is slightly below average. Of those warnings, 280 were yellow weather warnings and 31 were orange weather warnings.

Weather fluctuates between years

The numbers are significantly lower than in 2022, when 456 weather warnings were issued: 372 yellow, 74 orange, and ten red. When data from the past six years is compared, it is clear that the number of weather warnings fluctuates considerably between years. In 2020, just 235 weather warnings were issued, while in 2020, the total number of weather warnings was 531.

Last year’s weather warnings were fairly evenly distributed across the country’s regions, with around 25-35 warnings issued for each region. The capital area and East Iceland received just 15 and 18 weather warnings respectively, however.

Most warnings due to wind

Most of the weather warnings issued in 2023 were due to strong winds, although warnings were also issued due to rain, snow, and rapid thawing (known to cause flooding). Yellow weather warnings indicate a high probability of poor weather with limited societal impact, while red weather warnings indicate that the weather conditions will have a significant impact on society.

Hellisheiði Closed After First Snowfall of the Year

winter weather iceland

After the first snowfall of the year, Hellisheiði, the section of road connecting the capital region to the South Coast, has been closed.

Several weather warnings were in effect through the night, and much of West, Southwest, and South Iceland are still under a yellow warning. Travellers can expect high winds, and unnecessary travel is to be avoided.

Expect Closures

G. Pétur Matthíasson, a spokesperson for the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, stated to RÚV: “This is the first weather like this here in the southwest of the country, where most of the traffic is. So, the conditions on Hellisheiði and Þrengsli [an alternate route to the South Coast] are not very good, which is why Hellisheiði has been closed due to the weather, and Þrengsli is at an uncertain stage.”

There are also reports of several stranded cars and drivers have encountered difficulties this morning due to severe conditions in the area. “This morning on Hellisheiði, there were quite a few cars that still had summer tires. The conditions were such that it’s not enough,” says G. Pétur stated to RÚV.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration will reassess the situation throughout the day. Hellisheiði will be reopened as soon as possible.

There was widespread snow in the countryside this morning, including in areas of the capital region.

Get the latest information on weather conditions at the Met Office. Live information on travel conditions and road closures can be viewed at the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s travel website.

Orange Weather Warning For Much of Iceland

Björgunarfélag Vestmannaeyja

Today, there is an orange warning in effect due to a severe storm from the north and heavy precipitation in the northern part of the country. Snowfall is expected in the mountains in addition to sleet and rain in the lowland.

The Met Office has also stated that the first snow avalanches of the autumn cannot be ruled out if snow accumulation is rapid. Likewise, rockslides and landslides cannot be ruled out in the lower parts of mountain slopes in this weather, given the expected precipitation. The Met Office notes that there is no perceived threat to settlements.

Damage Caused to Residences

Sharp winds have however caused some damage to residences throughout Iceland. The Westman Island ICE-SAR team was called out today to assist in fixing roofs when sheet metal began to fly around Heimaey.

Björgunarfélag Vestmannaeyja
Björgunarfélag Vestmannaeyja helping to fix roofs in Heimaey.

RÚV also reports that rescue teams were called out in Höfn in Hornafjörður due to a door that had flown off a building.  The door flew off from the Glacier World guesthouse, which is about 19 kilometres from Höfn and approximately three kilometres from the main road.

Impassable Roads in North Iceland

The orange weather warning has also caused difficult driving conditions, and motorists are advised to avoid highland areas. Conditions are particularly bad in North Iceland, where a severe storm is expected overnight. In the Southeast, there will be a blizzard east of Vatnajökull Glacier starting in the afternoon and continuing into the evening.

For more information on weather conditions and safe travel, see the website of the Icelandic Met Office.

Yellow Weather Warning for Much of Nation

iceland weather warning

Yellow weather warnings are in effect for all of Iceland except the East Fjords today and tomorrow, May 23-24.

Residents and visitors are advised to avoid unnecessary travel as a southwest gale will bring sharp winds and rain across the island in the coming days.

Winds up to 23 m/s [51 mph] are expected with potential showers, hail, and sleet. Temperatures are expected to range between 5° and 15° C [41°- 59°F], with warmer temperatures in the Northeast.

Airport operator Isavia has also issued a travel advisory, stating that flights on May 23 and 24 may be affected. Travellers are encouraged to arrive early and monitor their flight status online.

Dangerous conditions are also forecast for Reynisfjara, a popular black sand beach on Iceland’s South Coast. Travellers are advised to avoid the area due to dangerous waves.

Travellers looking for information about weather warnings, travel advisories, and more may find the following links helpful:

Icelandic Road Administration

Keflavík International Airport

Safe Travel

 

East Iceland Residents Warned of Heavy Rain and Runoff

East Iceland March 2023

Residents of East Iceland are encouraged to clear their rain gutters in preparation for heavy rain and rising temperatures today. An orange weather alert is in effect for the East Fjords region today, where hundreds of residents remain evacuated from their homes due to avalanche risk. Several avalanches have hit the East Fjords town of Neskaupsstaður this week, causing property damage but no serious injuries.

The Icelandic Met Office warned that rising temperatures may lead to extreme thawing and increased runoff in East Iceland, as well as rising water levels in rivers and streams. Heavy snow and blowing snow are expected in the region as well, particularly in the northern part. The orange weather alert is in effect until 9:00 AM tomorrow morning, with a yellow weather alert on its heels lasting throughout Friday.

Most East Fjords roads closed

East Iceland Police wrote this morning that they were considering opening the road between Neskaupstaður and Eskifjörður through Fannardalur as well as the road connecting Egilsstaðir and Reyðarfjörður through Fagradalur. Both of these roads are currently closed due to risk of avalanches, as are most roads between Egilsstaðir and Höfn.

Residents are asked to monitor notifications from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management as well as East Iceland Police, the Icelandic Met Office, and road.is.

Busy Weekend for ICE-SAR on Hellisheiði Pass

winter weather iceland

ICE-SAR was busy until late into the evening on Hellisheiði pass this past Sunday. Severe weather left several people trapped in their cars after a significant traffic accident, which reportedly involved up to ten vehicles.

Hellisheiði is the mountainous pass between South Iceland and the Reykjanes peninsula and can present travellers with very difficult conditions during the winter.

Of the individuals involved in the traffic accident, several were transported to the emergency room in Reykjavík, though none were reported as seriously injured. In addition to assisting potentially injured drivers and removing damaged cars from the road, ICE-SAR was also busy evacuating individuals from their vehicles and bringing them back to town.

According to a representative from ICE-SAR, approximately 150 people were assisted yesterday.

Members of ICE-SAR from throughout the region were present, including from Selfoss, Hveragerði, Reykjavík, and Þorlákshöfn.

Hellisheiði pass was closed for much of yesterday due to the weather, but is currently open at the time of writing. Travellers are advised to check conditions and heed weather warnings when driving in Iceland.

This winter has been noteworthy for the number of weather warnings issued. While 2020 saw the most weather warnings in total issued, the winter of 2022 saw a record number of orange and red warnings. In total, 84 of these extreme weather warnings were issued.

 

Yellow Weather Warning For Nearly Entire Nation Tomorrow

weather iceland

The Meteorological Office has announced a yellow alert for nearly the entire nation, beginning early tomorrow morning, February 2. Conditions are expected to last into the evening.

The only area exempt from tomorrow’s warnings is the greater Reykjavík area.

Eastern and southeastern winds can be expected to range between 15 to 23 m/s [33 to 51 mph] for much of the nation. Snow and sleet are expected, with temperatures hovering around the freezing point.

Especially harsh winds are expected on the Kjalarnes peninsula and near Eyjafjalljökull, with forecasts of winds up to 35 m/s [78 mph].

Travellers and residents alike are advised against unnecessary travel, especially on mountain roads which may be subject to closures.

The warnings are also noteworthy as they follow a recent announcement by the Meteorological Office that a record number of extreme weather warnings were issued in the past year.

meteorological office iceland
From Veðurstofa Íslands. Annual numbers of yellow, orange, and red weather alerts.

For 2022, a total of 456 weather alerts were issued. While 2020 had more total weather alerts, 2022 represents a new record for extreme weather, with 74 orange warnings and 10 red warnings.

The most warnings were given for South and Southeast Iceland.

 

Successful Response to Extreme Weather

None were injured in the winter storm that hit Iceland yesterday, and response efforts went smoothly, representatives of the Icelandic Association for Search, Rescue, and Injury Prevention (ICE-SAR) and the Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department told Vísir. Efforts mostly consisted of assisting travellers who had gotten stuck in the snow. The weather has calmed across the country today and is expected to be calmer in the coming days, though with heavy precipitation.

Cars stuck in snow

Travellers required assistance in various regions, including the capital area, West Iceland, Southeast Iceland, and East Iceland. More than 10 cars got stuck in the Grafarholt neighbourhood of Reykjavík around 10:00 PM last night. Only one response centre for travellers was opened, in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Southeast Iceland, and 34 travellers sought shelter there.

Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, the Civil Protection Department’s Communications Officer, believes that the weather warnings released over the past two days served to prevent serious accidents. “We believe that people just decided to stand with us in all of this,” she stated.