Orange Weather Alert Tomorrow Morning Across Iceland

orange weather alert Icelandic met office storm

Travellers across Iceland are asked to stay put tomorrow morning, as gale-force winds and blizzard conditions will hit nearly all regions of the country. The Icelandic Met Office has issued an orange weather alert between 6:00 AM and 1:00 PM tomorrow, with conditions expected to improve in the afternoon.

The storm will arrive from the southwest, hitting the Reykjavík capital area, south, and west of the country early tomorrow morning. It will move eastward across the country, with orange alerts issued for all regions except the Ísafjarðardjúp area, for which a yellow alert has been issued.

The storm will bring winds of 20-28 metres per second with violent wind gusts of over 40 metres per second expected near mountains. The winds make travel extremely dangerous and carry a risk of property damage: residents are encouraged to secure outdoor belongings before the storm hits. Heavy precipitation in the form of sleet or snow is expected across the country, particularly in South, North, and East Iceland and will create blizzard conditions and poor visibility.

Travellers can monitor the forecast on the Icelandic Met Office website and road closures and conditions at road.is.

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.

Mast Report: Over 100 Horses Died During Winter Storm

Over one hundred horses have been confirmed dead following extreme weather conditions in Northwestern Iceland in December, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (Mast) reports. The deaths account for approximately 0.5% of the equine population in the area; an estimated 20,000 horses were roaming free in Northwestern Iceland during the storm.

Not a Matter of Negligence

Horses from a total of 46 farms died, including 29 farms in East-Húnavatn county (61 horses), nine farms in West-Húnavatn county (20 horses), and eight farms in Skagafjörður (22 horses). A single farm commonly lost one to four horses. An average of approximately two horses died on each farm. According to Mast, this even distribution of equine deaths indicates that the fatalities were not the result of negligence or of the farmers’ failure to take appropriate measures.

Horses of all ages died in the storm: 29 foals (under a year old), 34 young horses (one to four years old), 30 mares, and 15 horses, most of which were adults. Most of the mares were elderly. The Mast report states that it was the oldest and the youngest horses that suffered the highest fatalities.

Buried Beneath Two Metres of Snow

The storm commonly drove horses into ditches, toward fences, or other hazardous areas; horses huddling around shelters were also commonly snowed in, e.g. horses that farmers had driven to shelter for safekeeping and feeding. In some cases, the storm buried horses beneath two metres of snow, with tall snowdrifts piling up around shelters. Generally speaking, horses on farms close to shore experienced the most extreme weather. At the same time, farms at a higher elevation were more fortunate, most likely because it was colder in those areas, with ice not piling up as quickly as snow.

Shelters Provided Little Succour

It is exceedingly rare for such an intense northerly storm to strike with concomitant precipitation and freezing temperatures, wherein sleet covered the horses and then froze. The horses became cold and heavy, which made it more difficult for them to withstand the prolonged snowstorm and the occasional hurricane-force winds. Human-made windbreaks and other natural shelters were of little use to the horses in areas where conditions were worst. The horses were generally in good shape to withstand the storm, as the fall had been favourable for horses kept outdoors.

Year in Review 2019: Nature

Vatnajökull

Spanning across glaciers, whales, and extreme weather, here’s a summary of Iceland’s biggest nature news stories of 2019.

Glacier goodbye

Iceland made international headlines this August when a memorial ceremony was held for Ok glacier, the country’s first glacier lost to climate change. The monument installed at the site of the former glacier is styled as a letter to the future, reading in part “This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

Early in the year, many Icelanders said they had changed some of their behaviour due to climate change, while Icelandic youth started a weekly climate strike in February. The government hasn’t been inactive on the issue, instituting small changes like a ban on plastic bags and larger ones like a new ISK 140 million ($1.1 million/€1 million) climate fund.

Whale beachings

While there was no whaling conducted in Iceland this summer for the first time in 17 years, the gentle giants seem to be facing other threats. A large number of beached whales were found in the country throughout the summer, either as individuals or in groups as large as 50 whales. An international investigation is now looking into whether navy sonar devices could be causing whales (which use sonar to navigate) to become disoriented.

Animal ailments

In spring, the first cases of acquired equine polyneuropathy (AEP) were confirmed in Icelandic horses this year. The disease, which affects the animals’ nervous system, first appeared in Scandinavia 25 years ago. AEP is not contagious, and most horses recover fully from the disease, though in Sweden and Norway up to 30% must be put down as a result of it.

A much smaller animal made headlines in the summertime: the sandfly, also known as biting midge. Though the insect is not new to Iceland, it has been accosting locals in South and Southwest Iceland earlier in the year and in greater numbers than usual. Sandflies are tiny and not easily seen, but their bites are said to be more painful than those of mosquitoes (of which Iceland luckily still has none).

Geology

While Iceland’s volcanoes remained calm in 2019, earthquakes let themselves be felt, most notably in an earthquake swarm in Northeast Iceland in late March and on the Reykjanes peninsula in Southwest Iceland in December. For a geologically active country these events, just like this year’s glacial flood in South Iceland, are nothing out of the ordinary.

Weather

As usual, Iceland had its fair share of notable weather in 2019. While in 2018 most of the country experienced a cold, rainy summer, this year rewarded residents with an unusually warm spring, with temperatures in April and May well above average, as well as more sunny, dry weather than usual in most parts of the country. The spring was a bit too dry, in fact, putting pressure on South Iceland’s water systems and putting farmers’ hay harvest at risk. In July, Iceland felt the effects of the heatwave hitting mainland Europe (admittedly milder than elsewhere), with temperatures of 25.9°C (78.6°F) recorded in North Iceland and 26.9°C (80.4°F) in South Iceland. High temperatures led to a thunderstorm in the same month, a rare occurrence in Iceland’s cool climate.

Winter storm

The year’s weather ended with a bang, bringing the worst winter storm the country has seen in years. Hurricane-force winds, snow, and ice made travel in Iceland virtually impossible between December 9 and 10. The storm also caused widespread power outages in North Iceland, some of which lasted up to a week. One tragic casualty resulted from the weather when a 16-year-old who was helping clear ice from a power station fell into a river and died. Local authorities in the worst-affected regions criticised the government’s failure to update the region’s infrastructure and ensure reserve power.

Power Restored to All Parts of the Country

According to RARIK, the state energy corporation of Iceland, power was restored to all parts of the country yesterday, RÚV reports. RARIK still expects power outages as repairs are far from finished. Backup generators are still powering many parts of the country.

A Milestone in Repairs

Following a severe storm last week – that resulted in unprecedented power failure – RARIK and Landsnet have for the past week worked to repair Iceland’s electrical system. Transportation, communication, and businesses were all affected by the storm.

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Helga Jóhannesdóttir, head of RARIK’s operations division, stated that restoring power to all parts of the country that had experienced blackouts marked a significant milestone. Electricity was restored to Hrútafjarðarháls and to neighbouring areas of Hvammstangi. RARIK expects brief power outages as repairs are still being finished.

11,000 Residents Without Electricity

In a speech before Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir discussed the aftermath of the storm and the government’s response.

“It’s not an exaggeration to speak of a major storm. As meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson has noted we have not seen such conditions – with regard to northerly winds, salinity, high air pressure – since 1973  when a similar storm passed over the country in February, during the eruption on Heimaey,” Katrín stated.

“It’s clear that we possess enormous strength as a society, as those who responded to the storm accomplished incredible things, working around the clock to achieve what was nothing short of a miracle. At the same time, we must face up to the fact that the storm exposed significant weaknesses within our infrastructure.”

Katrín broadly recounted the series of events, observing that the Icelandic Met Office had for the first time issued a red weather warning and that police authorities had also declared a state of uncertainty. “According to information from the Civil Defence Commission, of the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, approximately 11,000 residents in 7,600 homes were without electricity.”

In her speech, Katrín emphasised that she had established a task force involving five ministries to propose necessary improvements.

Extreme Weather

Snow, wind, and ice damaged power lines and posts in North and East Iceland last Tuesday and Wednesday when a winter storm blew across the country. The resulting outages left thousands without power, some areas for as long as five days. In areas where the hot water supply relies on electricity, homes quickly got cold indoors. Some residents found themselves without electricity, heat, radio, or even cell phone signals, unable to reach help in case of emergencies.