Weather in South and East Iceland May Make Driving Difficult

The weather forecast for today presents what may be challenging conditions for those hoping to drive through southern and eastern Iceland today.

During the afternoon, a combination of winds in the double-digit metres per second, along with rain and relatively low temperatures, implores drivers take extra caution when driving through South Iceland.

This is especially the case as much of Route 1 through South Iceland winds through relatively flat terrain, which can push against vehicles and make driving a little extra challenging in dry conditions, let alone when it is raining.

Come the late afternoon and early evening, East Iceland–in particular, the northeast–will see high winds, freezing temperatures and snow. This may decrease visibility. In addition, high winds near steep mountains such as those found in East Iceland can create wind sheers that descend these slopes at great speed.

Generally speaking, when traveling by road vehicle in Iceland, it is highly advisable to check the weather, road conditions, and SafeTravel in order to ensure your road trips are both safe and enjoyable.

Rainy Across Most of Iceland Today

rain iceland traffic

Today, April 11, will be rainy across much of the nation.

By evening, a low-pressure system will move over the southern parts of the country and then towards the east. The Met Office expects this will decrease winds and precipitation for most of the nation.

Rain and sleet for much of Iceland

Much of South Iceland, including the capital region and the South Coast, will be rainy today. The precipitation will change to sleet and snow in more northerly parts of the country, and higher elevation areas. Much of East and Northeast Iceland can expect snow today.

West Iceland, including the Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Westfjords, will be comparatively dry.

Temperatures mild around capital, colder in the North

Temperatures will range from around freezing to 8° C [46° F] throughout Iceland today. The mildest temperatures will be felt along the South Coast. The capital region is expected to be slightly cooler, around 5° C [41° F].

Temperatures will drop up north and in higher elevation areas, such as the highland. East and Northeast Iceland, in addition to the Westfjords, can all expect temperatures hovering around freezing today.

Wind sharper in the South

East and northeast Iceland will see moderate wind gusts, with sharper winds in the south. The Met Office predicts that winds will sharpen in the late morning, and it advises drivers in South Iceland to exercise caution.

As the day wears on, winds in Northwest Iceland are expected to pick up.

Useful resources for travellers

As always, travellers are advised to stay up to date with the latest weather conditions in Iceland.

Get the latest updates on weather at the Icelandic Met Office.

Live updates on road conditions in Iceland.

General safety tips at Safetravel.

Travellers in Iceland may also find our guides on driving in Iceland during the summer and winter helpful.

 

Fourth Sunniest Reykjavík Winter in Recorded History

Reykjavík at dawn

This winter was the fourth sunniest one in the history of Reykjavík since recording began. Only 1947, 1966 and last winter were sunnier, Vísir reports.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office recorded 313.5 sunny hours this winter, which is 106.5 hours above average. March was particularly sunny in Reykjavík, with 68.2 hours of sun more than the average of 1991 to 2020. Akureyri was also sunnier than usual, with 134 hours of sun, 15.4 hours above the average.

Nicer March than usual

The Meteorological Office also reported that March 2024 was sunnier, drier and warmer than usual. In the northwest, however, the weather was colder with more precipitation. Heavy snow in the north and east at the end of March, in addition to windy conditions, caused traffic issues and a number of avalanches to boot.

The average temperature in Reykjavík was 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is half a degree warmer than the average over the last few decades. In Akureyri, the average temperature was negative 0.3 degrees Celsius, lower than average. The warmest conditions were to be found in the south and southwest of Iceland, with the north and northwest colder.

Hottest day in Húsafell

The highest temperature measured was 12.4 degrees Celsius in Húsafell, inland from Borgarfjörður in the west of Iceland. The lowest temperature was negative 22.3 degrees Celsius in Mývatn and by Setur to the south of Hofsjökull glacier.

Avalanche Warning in the Westfjords

The Icelandic Met Office has issued an orange warning, the second highest rating, for the Westfjords due to weather conditions that include the danger of avalanches.

A yellow warning is currently in effect for the entire northwest quadrant of Iceland due to high winds and snowfall. In the Westfjords, winds ranging from 15 to 23 metres per second are expected, along with heavy snowfall. Those winds are expected to intensify over the night.

Heavy snowfall and high winds over an area characterised by tall and steep mountains has the combined effect of all the conditions for an avalanche, and the Met Office has issued an avalanche warning for the northern portion of the Westfjords.

Mercifully, it is not believed that these avalanches will reach near any human settlements, although that may change. Roads may find themselves suddenly cut off due to avalanches, and given the forecast weather conditions, rescuing anyone trapped on the roads in an avalanche would be very challenging.

As with any orange warning, it is strongly advised that any travel plans in the area during this time are cancelled. Conditions are expected to clear come Tuesday but, as is often the case with weather in Iceland, this too may be subject to change.

Winter Driving in Iceland

winter tires reykjavík

How best do you prepare for winter driving in Iceland? What type of vehicle is best to deal with the frosty conditions? Read on to make yourself aware of how best to drive in the cold season during your vacation in Iceland. 

Operating a vehicle during Iceland’s winter comes with significant challenges that visitors need to be aware of. 

In this season, the country becomes coated in snow. Its roadways are covered with sheet-ice. The winds and darkness add a dramatic, and sometimes oppressive ambience that takes even the most worldly travellers by surprise.

Still, millions of foreign visitors are eager to explore this country between September and March. And not only the areas around the well-kept capital city, Reykjavík.

The scenic South Coast, the favourite Golden Circle sightseeing route, the awe-inspiring North, and even the remote Eastfjords are all there and available for those willing to brave the elements.

Visitors at Gullfoss waterfall
Photo: Golli. Gullfoss waterfall in the wintertime.

But without any railways, there are only a handful of options when it comes to reaching these places. 

One choice might be entrusting your journey to an experienced driver. This is best done by taking part in one of the many single or multi-day tours available. In these cases, you will travel by coach, minivan or Super Jeep. For the North specifically, another option might be taking a domestic flight from Reykjavík Airport. 

However, most vacationers prefer to set their own schedule, making renting a car the most attractive choice. Nevertheless, during the winter season, having a solid understanding of what driving in Iceland entails is essential to ensure confidence on the roads.

Let’s look at some handy tips and tricks to make sure your winter driving in Iceland remains safe and enjoyable. 

How to drive safely in the Icelandic winter

Aerial view of Reykjavík city traffic during winter
Photo: Golli. Aerial view of Reykjavík city traffic during winter

When driving in Iceland during the winter, a comparison can be made to travelling by light speed in Star Wars. Nothing but darkness and passing snowflakes can be seen through the windscreen. It’s all too easy to picture yourself sitting behind the console of the Millennium Falcon, looking upon a billion stars as they flash and fly by.

This might sound exciting – and indeed, it is – but this lack of visibility can cause a lot of drivers to become stressed. Some even panic at the wheel. 

In such circumstances, it is important to remain calm. Given the lack of daylight hours, drive slowly and carefully, wherever in the country you may be. 

Should you find yourself in truly inhospitable conditions – where even recognising the road in front of you is difficult – it can be helpful to run your wheels over the centre-line so as to feel the difference in texture. 

That’s right – in dire circumstances, driving by touch might actually be a necessity! (Don’t ever let anyone say that winter is not challenging for motorists.) 

Choosing the right vehicle 

Renting a car can be a great way to get around Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík traffic

When planning your holiday, pay special attention to the type of vehicle you choose. 

If you are staying in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, you will have more freedom given the fact that the roads there are cleared often. This means that renting a smaller, cheaper car remains a possibility. However, the tinier the car, the lower ground clearance it has. Be warned. Lower ground clearance risks the vehicle becoming stuck in the snow. 

If you are hoping to travel further afield, then you will require a vehicle capable of handling increased snowfall and powerful winds. A larger, heavier vehicle with good ground clearance is far more appropriate. Particularly one that is capable of four-wheel drive. 

Whatever the case, it is crucial that your car is fitted with studded winter tyres. This should be the default, as at this time of year, winter tyres are required by law. However, many, many vehicles are rented out each year in Iceland. It is always advisable to make certain your car is kitted out correctly.   

Check the road conditions 

Cars trapped on the road
Photo: From archives

Before setting out, it is always advised that travellers keep up-to-date with the state of the roads on which they’ll be driving. Weather conditions can change extremely quickly in Iceland, meaning that one moment a road may be open, only to be closed down and inaccessible the next. 

Thankfully, there are a number of handy apps that will help you to best plan your journey, and be aware of any disruptions, before setting out. These include:

Safe Travel 

This helpful application will tell you the exact condition of a road, whether it be clear, slippery, snowy, or closed down. Make sure to know exactly what each colour means as you check the app, and take special notice of any safety updates regarding different areas of the country. 

Veður 

This is the go-to weather app in Iceland, providing you with a 10-day forecast that informs you of the temperature, visibility, and precipitation levels. Downloading it will give you a great leg-up when it comes to winter driving in Iceland. 

These apps are available on both Google Play and the Apple Store. 

What to bring on your travels in Iceland during winter  

Photo: Alehandra13, Pixabay

In the worst case scenario, you may find your vehicle – and, consequently, yourself – trapped by the snow. Should such an incident happen, there are various items you will be grateful for having packed. 

First off, extra clothes and blankets are a must to remain warm while waiting for the Search and Rescue teams. Given the vast stretches of wilderness between different settlements in Iceland, this may be a few hours, and on particularly tempestuous days, your rescuers may find themselves busier than you realise.

Second, ensure that you have fresh water and snacks to stave off hunger in the event you find yourself trapped besides, or even on, the roadside. On that note, it is not just you that should be kept well fed – make sure your vehicle has at least half a full tank of fuel at any given time. Gas stations can be few and far between along certain routes, so it is always best to top-up your fuel whenever the opportunity arises. 

Another is an emergency kit. It might include: a first-aid kit, a spare tyre and the equipment needed to change it, a paper map, snow scrapers, shovels, a flashlight, spare batteries. While renting your car, inquire as to whether any of these essentials are included in your package. If not, ask how you might go about acquiring them before setting off. 

When driving to more remote areas, specialised items like flares, safety vests, and emergency beacons also come recommended. 

In Summary 

winter weather road snow
Photo: Golli. A snow-swept road in Iceland

While the safety concerns are certainly important to take into account when it comes to driving in the Icelandic winter, there is no need for endless worry. 

As long as you remain vigilant to changing weather patterns, you remain one step ahead. Leep up-to-date with travel warnings through looking at websites and mobile applications. Most essentially, drive slowly and cautiously. There is no reason why you cannot drive yourself from one incredible destination to the next. 

The winter is a truly magical time of year in Iceland. It is well worth renting your own vehicle so as to explore the country at your leisure. So, drive safe, and enjoy your journey. 

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.

 

Common Questions About Iceland

The Icelandic flag

Where is Iceland?

Iceland is an island located in the North Atlantic Ocean. It sits directly on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and comprises two major tectonic plates, the Eurasian and North American. Coupled with the volcanic hotspot underneath the island, this results in frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

How big is Iceland, and how many people live there? 

In terms of area, Iceland is about 103,000 square kilometres [39,769 square miles]. In population numbers, Iceland is the size of an average European city, with around 400.000 inhabitants. Most of those live in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, or the surrounding area. 

How Do I Get to Iceland?

There are two ways to travel to Iceland. You can fly with one of the numerous airlines that fly there or you can sail with M/S Norröna, a ferry that offers weekly fares from Denmark to the east of Iceland. Additionally, numerous cruise ships offer trips to and around the island. 

Is Iceland Expensive?

For most people, Iceland will be more expensive than their home country. The cost of living is high, and there are some things in particular, such as alcohol, eating out, and planned tours, that are very expensive. The good news is that there are also many free attractions to enjoy! If you‘re here on a budget, skip the planned tours and just head out on your own. Couple that with an Airbnb, where you can cook your own meals, and you‘ll save yourself considerable amounts.  

Do people tip in Iceland? 

It‘s not the custom in Iceland to tip. Some restaurants and coffee shops have jars for tipping, but as customer service wages in Iceland are good, this is not something you should feel obligated to do.

Is Iceland cold? 

Judging by the name, one might think Iceland is extremely cold and covered in snow all year round. This is not the case at all! Over the year, temperatures usually fluctuate between -10 °C [14 °F] and 20 °C [68 °F], with the coldest month being January and the warmest July. Storms, often accompanied by snow or rain, are frequent from September to March. Wind and precipitation are less common during summer, and if you‘re lucky, you might even catch some excellent sunny, warm weather days.

Is Iceland safe? 

Yes, it is. In fact, for 14 years in a row, Iceland has been ranked number one on the Global Peace Index

Are Icelanders LGBTQ+ Friendly?

Iceland is considered among the most LGBTQ+ friendly countries to visit, and the Icelandic people are usually very open and accepting towards LGBTQ+ communities. Reykjavík Pride, a week-long annual celebration held in August, attracts tens of thousands of people. 

What is the best time of year to visit Iceland?

Well, it depends on your preferences. Do you crave bright and magical summer nights or the cosy darkness of winter? Would you like a chance to encounter a blizzard and see the northern lights, or do you wish to experience the extraordinary Highland, spot some whales and visit remote fjords? In Iceland, each season has something unique to offer!

 

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.

Hazardous Road Conditions in the North

winter tires reykjavík

Roads across Iceland are out of commission today due to harsh winter weather. Conditions are especially bad in the north and Holtavörðuheiði, a part of the Ring Road between the capital area and Akureyri, has been closed, RÚV reports.

Buses postponed or cancelled

Bus trips operated by Strætó have been postponed or cancelled this morning. Bus 57 at 10:15 from Akureyri to Reykjavík was cancelled. The bus travelling in the opposite direction at 9:00, from Mjódd in Reykjavík going north, only made it to Borgarnes.

Routes 78 and 79, between Siglufjörður and Akureyri, and Húsavík and Akureyri, respectively, have been postponed for an indefinite period. Route 59 between Borgarnes and Hólmavík has also been postponed.

Many roads out of commission

In the northeast, the road over Möðrudalsöræfi has been closed and Öxnadalsheiði road is out of commission as well. According to the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, blinding snowfall and difficult driving conditions are to be expected in many areas, especially Vatnsskarð and Þverárfjall.

The snowfall is expected to decrease tonight. However, driving conditions in Skagafjörður will get worse today and roads could be closed later on. Slippery surfaces, poor visibility and hail can be expected on roads in the area.

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.