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.

Aid Station Opens in Neskaupstaður Following Avalanches

neskaupstaður avalanche

An aid station will be opening today, April 3, for the residents of Neskaupstaður and surrounding settlements that have been affected by the recent avalanches.

Some 850 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes since the first avalanches on the morning of March 27, making it one of the largest evacuations in Icelandic history. It has also been one of the largest ICE-SAR operations in Icelandic history, with some 300 members present at the height of rescue operations. Many residents have since returned, with The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management asking the returning residents to make use of the aid station.

Read more: Evacuations in Three Additional East Fjord Towns

Government ministers also made a trip out to the affected region over the weekend, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

The ministers met with municipal representatives to survey the progress of the operations and discuss future prevention measures.

Almannavarnir ICE-SAR
ICE-SAR teams at Egilsstaðir Airport – Almannavarnir

Katrín stated to RÚV: “It is a great relief that it was not worse and no one died in these avalanches. That’s the most important thing, but at the same time, the damage is extensive and it is shocking to see the effects of the avalanches. It is extremely important to provide strong support now.”

She stated further: “I understand that the municipal authorities are putting a lot of emphasis on speeding it up as much as possible. What faces us ministers who are here is to review these plans and investigate what can be done to accelerate this project even further.”

Read more: East Iceland Residents Warned of Heavy Rain and Runoff

In addition to the aid stations, Red Cross in Iceland will also be offering psychological services to affected residents.

The coast guard vessel, Þór, is also set to leave the area today. Dispatched on March 27, its crew has had a busy week assisting rescue operations. It was the first time Þór was dispatched in this capacity. In total, Þór left the capital region with a total complement of 40, including a crew of 20 and 20 members of ICE-SAR and the Reykjavík Fire Department.

Three Avalanches in Neskaupstaður

avalanche neskaupstaður

Three avalanches struck Neskaupstaður, a town in the Eastfjords, in the night and early morning of March 26-27. Morgunblaðið reports.

One of these avalanches is reported to have hit an apartment building, breaking windows and burying cars.

avalanche neskaupstaður
Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg

A state of emergency has been declared in the area by The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management. Communications Director for Civil Protection, Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir stated: “The National Police Commissioner, in consultation with the police chief in East Iceland, has declared a public safety emergency due to the avalanches that fell in Neskaupsstaður this morning, Monday, March 27. It has been decided to evacuate other areas where there is a risk of avalanches, both in Neskaupstaður and in Seyðisfjörður. Mass relief centres have been opened in both places […] Rescuers are working on site. ICE-SAR teams have been called out, and the Road Administration is working with us to clear the way for rescuers. An emergency has been declared in Neskaupstaður, and residents are advised to stay at home and on the side of the house facing the hillside.”

Visibility conditions in the area are reported to be poor, and clearing the way for rescuers may take into the evening.

The state of emergency is expected to be in effect for the rest of the day while rescue operations are underway. The coast guard ship Þór has also been dispatched to the area to aid in rescue operations.

Initial reports indicate some damage to property, but no injuries or deaths.

Nine Days of Cold Spell, With No End in Sight

Reykjavík

The capital area has seen below-zero temperatures uninterrupted since March 6. Today, March 14, marks the ninth straight day of subzero temperatures.

Although temperatures may briefly rise above zero tomorrow afternoon, no clear end is in sight for the cold spell.

In a report on Facebook, meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson stated: “It’s an unusually long spell for March, when the sun has begun to warm during the day. The previous record this winter was for some 14 days before Christmas, though this was when the sun was at its lowest.”

According to Einar, the coldest March in living memory was in 1979, when the temperatures remained below zero for 11 continuous days, from February 28 to March 10.

Though the month began with relatively warm temperatures, the average temperature during the latest cold spell has sat between -6.5°C and -7°C [19°F to 21°F].

The low temperatures are expected to last at least until the weekend, with a slight rise on Friday.

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.

 

Twenty Rescued from Ski Lift in High Winds

Twenty people were rescued from a chairlift at the Hlíðarfjall ski area outside Akureyri on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports. The lift stalled when the wire was blown off its spool by a strong blast of wind, stranding about 20 people mid-air for close to two hours. Luckily, the area’s Search and Rescue crew was able to get everyone to safety and no one was injured in the process.

Weather conditions are assessed at ski areas every day to determine if it’s safe to open. But while conditions weren’t ideal at Hlíðarfjall on Friday, the wind wasn’t initially so strong that it was thought unsafe to ski and snowboard. By the afternoon, however, the weather had taken a turn for the worse.

From noon, the wind started to pick up again, and it was decided to stop letting people in the lift at 12:30,” explained a post on the Hlíðarfjall Facebook page. “There were still 21 people on the lift. Our chairlifts have built-in wind protection that slows down and stops the lift at certain wind speeds. An attempt was made to drive the lift slowly backwards in the hope of evacuating it, but as the wind continued to increase, it did not work and the lift came to a complete stop.

The Súlur Search and Rescue team used special equipment to rescue those who had been stranded on the chairlift in high winds. Image via the Hlíðarfjall Akureyri Facebook page.

It was then that Search and Rescue and police were called, explained Hlíðarfjall director Brynjar Helgi Ásgeirson. Ski area staff regularly train in ski lift rescues, but the wind, which had reached 20 m/s [44.7 mph], made the process much more difficult.

Luckily, everyone on the lift was back on the ground within two hours of it stopping. Australian Andrew Davis was one of those rescued from the lift. He told reporters that everyone who was stuck kept calm, and no one seemed to be in too bad a shape, though the wind was battering them about.

Andrew said he did consider jumping from the lift, as he was confident he could have stuck the landing. But in the end, he decided to wait it out, and saluted the Search and Rescue team for their fast work. Two 13-year-old girls were also amongst the stranded, but Bynjar Helgi said they were “quite upbeat” when they made it back to the ground.

After the rescue, those who had been stranded were offered trauma counselling, although no one chose to take it. What everyone did want, however, was the hot chocolate that ski area staff had waiting for them. “After a short while and some hot cocoa, people were smiling and putting this down to experience,” said Brynjar Helgi.

Hlíðarfjall was closed on Saturday due to unsafe weather conditions. To check current conditions and look at the area’s web cams (in English), see the Hlíðarfjall website, here.

Unusual Snow on Esja Slopes

esja mountain reykjavik

Reykjavík residents and visitors may have noticed a distinctive stripe on Esja’s slopes in the last few days.

As can be seen, a white band of snow stretches up Esja’s slope for about 300m. Above the 300m mark there is much less snow, and in many places no snow at all, leading to the interesting band of colour.

The Meteorological Office of Iceland claims on social media that they’ve received many questions about the phenomenon and have provided a brief public explanation.

Typically, we see the opposite on mountain slopes: white peaks, with bare sides. This is because the higher the elevation, the lower the average temperature. So precipitation falling at the peak is much more likely to be snow, while precipitation falling on the slopes may simply turn to rain.

The pattern visible on Esja for the last few days, according to the Meteorological Office, can be explained by a cycle of freezing and thawing.

Average temperatures have been very low in Iceland his winter, but data shows brief temperature spikes in low-lying areas. These warming periods, followed by continued cold averages, create a cycle of thawing and re-freezing that compacts the snow, making it denser and icier.

However, because the peaks have remained at freezing temperatures, the snow at higher elevations has remained powdery. Powdery snow is of course more susceptible to wind and is more likely to be blown away in storms. The Meteorological Office pointed out the night of January 8-9 as especially windy, with recorded wind speeds of 20 m/s (45 mph). Sure enough, the next day was when the distinctive snow pattern became visible.

Coldest Since 1918: Record Low Recorded in Reykjavík

An icy Reykjavík City Pond.

The coldest temperature since 1918 was recorded in Viðidalur in Reykjavík this morning, when thermometers dropped to -23°C (-9°F).

This represents the coldest recorded temperature since the particularly harsh winter of 1918.

In a statement to Fréttablaðið, Sigurður Þór Guðjónsson, a historian of climate, stated: “It’s not uncommon to see such temperatures in so-called cold-bubbles, like in Viðidalur. But in truth, it did not sustain this low for very long. It’s letting up now, but could just as easily become even colder with no wind.”

Notably, the recorded temperature in Viðidalur does not necessarily reflect conditions in parts of the capital region. Seltjarnes, for example, only dipped to -4°C (25°F).

The weather station in Viðidalur has been in operation for several years, and has measured some of Reykjavík’s coldest temperatures since it came into use.

Sigurður stated that in 1918, we know that temperatures reached -25°C (-13°F) in the city centre, meaning that temperatures in Viðidalur were likely even lower.

More Road Closures Following Heavy Snowfall

winter weather road snow

Recent snowfall has led to road closures throughout the country.

Snow removal teams are working at full capacity, stated Eiður Fannar Erlendsson, overseer of winter service for Reykjavík City. With 20 vehicles, he estimates that it will be some four to five days until roads in the capital area are fully cleared.

As of the morning of December 27, Route 1 on the South Coast between the Markarfljót river and Kirkjubæjarklaustur is closed. Additionally, Hellisheiði, the important pass between the Reykjanes peninsula and Hveragerði is also closed. Road closures are subject to change, and travelers are advised to check safetravel.is for the latest information.

Conditions in Grindavík, a town on the South Coast of the Reykjanes peninsula, are also reported as being bad. The road to Grindavík is closed, with reports of cars abandoned in the snow. Road teams were at work in Grindavík until early this morning to ensure that healthcare workers could get to work.

Additionally, two houses in Mýrdalur, east of Vík, were evacuated due to avalanche risk.

Morgunblaðið also reports that December of this year has seen some 128 calls to ICESAR, Iceland’s volunteer search and rescue. Last year during the same time period saw 40 search and rescue calls, a significant increase.