The Weather in Iceland: What to Expect and How to Read the Weather Report

A person walking a dog in a snowstorm.

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, you’ve probably heard that in addition to northern lights and the magical midnight sun, it’s also famous for unpredictable weather. Constantly keeping the Icelandic people on their toes, it can change directions in an instant, sometimes even going so far as to offer all four seasons in a single day. Despite this uncertainty, staying up to date with the forecast is an important part of keeping yourself safe and comfortable. It allows you to plan ahead for packing, and travel-wise prevents you from getting caught in potentially dangerous situations. The Icelandic Met Office forecast, available on their website and app, is the best place to check. It provides detailed and up-to-date information about the expected weather and alerts you to extreme conditions. Below, you will find everything you need to know about what you can expect from the weather in Iceland and how to read the weather report.

What’s the weather like in Iceland?

Generally, temperatures fluctuate between -10 °C [14 °F] and 20°C [68°F] over the year, with January being the coldest month and July the warmest. Storms, often accompanied by snow or rain, are frequent from September to March but far less common during summer. 

This is not to say that the weather in Iceland is all storms and rain that slaps you in the face. The fall and winter days can be quite beautiful, with clear skies and frosty ground or snow that falls calmly to the ground, and the spring and summer usually offer some exceptional days of sun and warmth as well. 

Given this unpredictability, it’s imperative for your safety and comfort that you check the weather forecast a few days before your trip and stay informed throughout it. The weather often catches people off guard, leaving them cold and uncomfortable, a situation that can easily be avoided by checking the forecast and dressing in the right clothes. Likewise, knowing when extreme weather is expected can spare you from getting yourself into a potentially dangerous situation, such as driving on a mountain road in a blinding snowstorm.

Weather alerts

The most important thing to know about the Icelandic weather report is how the colour-coded alert system works. Alerts are issued in cases of extreme weather and are a convenient way to quickly get the lay of the land. As mentioned above, snowstorms, rainstorms, and windstorms are common during fall and winter, and keeping an eye out for alerts is essential for your safety. They are less common during spring and summer, but we advise you to check for them nonetheless, especially if you’re driving around the country or going up to the Highland.

The alert system is simple and easy to understand. It has three colours, each representing a different severity level: yellow, orange, and red. You’ll see the warnings in the top right corner of the Icelandic Met Office homepage. There’s a small blue map of Iceland there which will display the different colours in correspondence with the weather in each part of the country – north, west, south, east, and the Highland. You can click on each section of the country to get more specific information about the issued warnings, what they entail and where they apply.

Screenshot of the weather alert map from the Icelandic MET Office, showing a yellow alert for wind.
Screenshot of the weather alert map from the Icelandic MET Office, showing a yellow alert for wind.

A yellow alert is the least extreme, and although it probably won’t be pleasant to spend the day outside, you can usually go about your business uninterrupted. Just be mindful of wind gusts and things that might be blowing around. If you had a hike planned, you should postpone it to another day, as the weather is usually more extreme in the mountains. You should also be extra careful driving around, especially in the countryside. Wind gusts can easily catch you off guard if you’re not prepared for them, leading to accidents. 

An orange alert means that the weather can be dangerous, and people are advised not to take unnecessary trips outside. A red alert is the most extreme, indicating a level of emergency. It’s relatively uncommon that a red alert is issued, but in case you encounter one while you’re here, prepare to kick back and have a cosy day inside. You should only leave the house in case of emergencies.

For all stages of alerts, it’s important to be mindful of your surroundings and take caution when moving around, both on foot and in a car. If you’re staying in a home with a patio, balcony, or garden, and there is any furniture or other loose items, secure them so they won’t blow away. You could, for example, move the items inside or stack them in a sheltered corner. Any level of alert could result in cancelled trips, delays in transportation, and closed roads. 

If the map in the upper right corner is entirely blue, there is no warning, and you can proceed with your plans uninterrupted. 

The classic weather map

To get a closer look at the weather, you can check out the map labelled ‘whole country’. It’s a classic weather report map using sun and cloud symbols to display the expected weather – sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy. Temperature is shown in Celsius beside the symbols, with a red number if it’s above freezing and a blue one if it’s below. Wind predictions are displayed as meters per second, with an arrow indicating the wind direction. Both the number and the arrows are black.

Screenshot of the classic weather map from the Icelandic MET Office.
Screenshot of the classic weather map from the Icelandic MET Office.

 

Use the sliding bar below the map to move back and forth in time, and click on the map to zoom in. Doing so will also give you more locations to look at. By hovering over a sun/cloud symbol, you’ll get basic written information about the weather in that location, and by clicking on it, a six-day forecast for the area will appear below the map.

In-depth weather report

In addition to the typical forecast map, you can find separate maps for temperature, wind, and precipitation predictions. These are colour-coded and more specific than the all-in-one map. 

The wind map shows the expected wind at 10 metres [33 feet] height. The arrows across the map indicate the direction of the wind, and the colours indicate speed. Green tones represent a wind speed of 0-8 metres per second, blue tones 8-16, purple tones 16-24, and red tones anything above that.

The temperature map shows the expected temperature at two metres [6.6 feet] height. The lowest temperatures are shown in green tones, each tone representing 2°C temperature intervals. As the heat increases, the colour tones will change to blue, yellow, orange, and red, with red representing the highest temperatures. 

 

Screenshot of the temperature map from the Icelandic MET Office.
Screenshot of the temperature map from the Icelandic MET Office.

The precipitation map shows the cumulative precipitation levels over a 1-hour, 3-hour or 6-hour period. The colours range from light yellow, indicating light precipitation of 0.1 mm [0.004 inches] per hour, to red, indicating heavy precipitation of 50 mm [2 inches] per hour. The map will also show you the direction and speed of the wind with wind barbs, the point of which will tell you the direction of the wind. Diagonal lines at the end of the barb symbolise wind speed. An increase in the length and number of lines means stronger winds. If the wind reaches 25 m/s, a triangle will be at the barb’s end. The lines across the map indicate mean sea level pressure.

 

The wind, temperature, and precipitation maps all have the same sliding bar function as the basic map, but you cannot zoom in on it or choose specific locations. 

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.

Yellow Weather Alert Takes Effect for All of Iceland

Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse

A yellow weather alert took effect for most parts of the country early this morning. A quick thaw later in the day is expected to produce heavy snowmelt. Residents are encouraged to clear snow away from gutters and icicles from roofs.

Extreme cold finally coming to a close

After six weeks of extreme cold, the weather in Iceland began to warm last night. In an interview with Fréttablaðið yesterday, Teitur Arason, a meteorologist with the Icelandic Met Office, stated that the cold spell was finally coming to an end.

“Today is the last day with this extreme cold,” Teitur said yesterday. After warmer weather this weekend, however, it will get cold again – but not as cold as over the past six weeks.

“On the one hand, the forecast expects a storm during the early part of tomorrow and then followed by a quick thaw.”

Teitur expects that the weather will grow calmer on Sunday but after the weekend, winter weather is expected to set in again. December and January have been unusually cold:

“What’s unusual, and what will go down in history, is this cold snap that has been going on for the last six weeks; we’ve seen an unusually long period of extreme frost. The swing in temperature over the course of one day will be quite extreme – and we will probably see the greatest swings in temperature in Víðidalur valley in Northeast Iceland. It was freezing there this morning (-23.4°C), but tomorrow [i.e. today, January 20) ] temperatures will rise to 7°C. That’s a swing of thirty degrees. This owes to the fact that we’ve been sitting in cold air and then a low-pressure system will move into the country and bring a lot of hot air. This is more normal weather at this time of year as opposed to this long cold snap.”

In an interview with Mbl.is yesterday, Jón Þór Víglundsson, Public Relations Officer for ICE-SAR (the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue), stated that rescue teams were at the ready: “The forces are ready, and if they have to, they will be called out.”

Difficult road conditions are expected to form over the course of the day.

Winter Weather Wreaks Havoc

Snowstorms in south and southwest Iceland wreaked havoc on Saturday, leading to road closures, the opening of additional emergency centres, dozens of calls to ICE-SAR to rescue people from cars stranded on roadways, and flight disruptions, RÚV reports.

See Also: It’s Going to Be a White Christmas

Roads around south and southwest Iceland—including the pass over Hellisheði and Mosfellsheiði heaths, Þrengsli, and around Kjalarnes peninsula—closed on Saturday, with teams struggling in low visibility and dense snow to clear a path, even as abandoned cars on the roadway slowed the process considerably.

“Yes, there’s been plenty to do,” said ICE-SAR’s information officer Jón Þór Víglundsson. “Not long ago, there were reports of cars on Mosfellsheiði and rescue teams were called out to deal with it. There were as many as 15 cars. Right as they were getting there, we got news of cars on Kjósskárðsvegur that were in trouble. So this is basically the situation in the southwest, from Borgarfjörður to east of Selfoss. People are finding themselves in trouble.”

Indeed, roads in and around Selfoss were impassable after a night and morning of heavy snow and Grétar Einarsson, foreman of the Icelandic Road Administration in Selfoss, also noted that cars that had gotten stuck on roadways were slowing the clearing process significantly—as were vehicles following directly behind the snowplows as the roads were being cleared.

But while he urged people to stay inside until roads had been sufficiently cleared, Grétar remained jolly. “People asked for Christmas snow and their prayers were clearly answered!”

Most rescue call-outs in Grindavík

Rescue teams responded to dozens of calls all over the country, but the most calls came from around the town of Grindavík, located on the southern coast of the Reykjanes peninsula.

“We’ve got snow accumulation, wind, sleet, driving snow, hailstorms, some thunder—it just doesn’t quit,” said Bogi Adolfsson, who leads the Þorbjörn Search and Rescue team in Grindavík. The team’s main challenge on Saturday was helping people were stuck on Rte. 43, also called Grindavíkurvegur, which closed that morning and stranded a number of people, mostly foreign tourists, who were trying to make their way back to the capital. The Red Cross opened an aid station in the afternoon to provide shelter for those who’d been rescued.

Shortly after noon on Saturday, there were a reported 40 cars stuck on Grindavíkurvegur, many of which were driven by tourists hoping to go to the Blue Lagoon. “A number of tourists have plans and there’s a steady stream of people headed toward the Blue Lagoon,” said Gríndavík detective superintendent Ásmundur Rúnar Gylfason. “They’ve just decided that they’ve got to go to the Blue Lagoon.” Many people en route to the popular destination were not aware of the road closure, and so police and rescue teams were stationed at the intersection with Reykjanesbraut to turn them away, but that caused traffic snares as well.

Further east along the southern coast, in Þorlákshöfn, about a dozen people spent much of the day at the emergency centre that had been opened in the primary school. Many of these individuals had had to spend the night there. “These are people who ICE-SAR rescued from their cars and brought here,” said school principal Ólína Þorleifsdóttir, who said they tried to make those who were stranded comfortable with blankets, bread, cookies, and coffee.

Flight disruptions

Snow accumulation on the runway at Keflavík necessitated the airport closing temporarily for both departures and landings. All flights to Europe were delayed due to weather on Saturday morning, some for upwards of four hours. A flight from Stockholm, Sweden had to land amidst lightning during the latter half of the day.

Both Icelandair flights from Reykjavík to Ísafjörður in the Westfjords had to be cancelled on Saturday, as did the first flight from the capital to Egilsstaðir in East Iceland. Flights from Reykjavík to Akureyri in North Iceland were delayed and one long-delayed flight from Akureyri to Reykjavík took off five hours after it was scheduled, only to be forced to return to Akureyri half-way to the capital due to weather conditions.

As of 7:00 PM, Icelandair had cancelled all flights until the morning, that is, 11 flights to North America, a flight to London Gatwick, and another to Copenhagen. All foreign passengers and those on connecting flights were put up in hotels at the airline’s expense. Icelandair PR representative Ásdís Ýr Pétursdóttir said delays could be expected when flights resumed.

This article was updated.

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.

Meradalir Eruption Site Closed Tomorrow

Meradalir eruption, August 2022

The Meradalir eruption site on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula will be closed tomorrow due to weather. The closure was announced by the Suðurnes Police Department in a press release.

The Icelandic Met Office has issued a yellow weather alert for the Reykjanes peninsula tomorrow, where considerable rainfall and gale-force winds are expected. Wind gusts in the area could reach speeds of 30 metres per second. Milder conditions are expected again on Thursday.

Lava flow decreased

The rate of lava flow at the eruption has decreased significantly since it began on August 3, according to the latest measurements published by the University of Iceland’s Earth Sciences Institute. While the flow rate measured 11 cubic metres per second between August 4-13, the average flow between Saturday and Monday was much lower, 3-4 cubic metres per second.

“It is impossible to say at this stage whether the end of the eruption is near, or whether it is only a temporary low point in the eruption,” a notice from the Institute reads.

Significant Rainfall in South Iceland May Flood Jökulsá River, Destroy Temporary Bridge

Bridge over Jökulsá in Sólheimasandur

Significant rainfall is expected over the next 24 hours around the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in South Iceland and may cause considerable flooding on the Jökulsá river. The Road and Coastal Administration will be monitoring conditions along the Ring Road and bridges in the vicinity, but it is uncertain whether the temporary bridge crossing the Jökulsá river where it runs through the Sólheimasandur flood plain will withstand rising waters. This per an announcement made by the Road and Coastal Administration on Tuesday night.

Construction is currently underway on a new bridge over the Jökulsá at Sólheimasandur and in the meantime, traffic is being diverted onto a temporary bridge. The administration is currently hard at work deepening the riverbed and making other preparations that will hopefully prevent major flooding. Nevertheless, the temporary bridge may not survive significant water rising. In the event that the temporary bridge becomes impassable, traffic east of Skógar will be redirected onto the new bridge and a system of alternating green lights will allow traffic to travel in both directions.

The Road and Coastal Administration notes that railing has not yet been finished along the new bridge so if it is necessary for travellers to use it, the speed limit will be temporarily reduced as a safety precaution. Drivers are asked to heed any such speed reductions.

The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for South Iceland and expects heavy rainfall in the entire region, but especially around Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. Travellers whose journeys are expected to take them over unbridged rivers are advised to reconsider their travel plans at this time as these rivers may be very difficult to cross or completely impassable.

Updates about road conditions can be found on the Road and Coastal Administration website, here, or by calling 1777 to get the most up-to-date conditions at any time.

All Roads Out of Reykjavík Closed

winter weather road snow

All roads out of Iceland’s capital Reykjavík are closed due to extreme weather conditions, including Route 41, the road to Keflavík International Airport. A yellow weather alert is in effect across the country, with strong winds and snow showers expected to continue until tomorrow afternoon in most regions. Travel is discouraged across the country.

Route 41 to Keflavík Airport, Route 1 between Reykjavík and South Iceland, as well as between Reykjavík and West Iceland, Route 39 to Þorlákshöfn (Þrengslin) and routes to Þingvellir National Park are all closed as of the time of writing. Southwesterly winds between 13-20 metres per second are hitting the country, bringing snow to all regions throughout today. Conditions are expected to improve in Northeast and East Iceland this afternoon. The remaining regions of the country, however, will continue to experience high winds and snow until Friday afternoon.

Travellers can monitor road conditions on road.is.

Road Closures Across West Iceland As Extreme Weather Continues

winter weather road snow

Major routes across Southwest Iceland and the Westfjords are closed due to stormy weather conditions. A yellow weather alert is in effect throughout the day in Southwest and West Iceland, the Reykjavík capital area, and the Westfjords. Travel in those regions is discouraged.

Easterly winds reaching speeds of 15-20 metres per second are forecasted in the Westfjords today, carrying blowing snow and causing poor visibility. Conditions are expected to worsen tomorrow morning in the region. In the Breiðafjörður region, West Iceland, stormy conditions will moderate during the night but worsen again tomorrow morning. In the Faxaflói region, wind gusts could reach speeds of 35 metres per second, making driving hazardous, and waves along the shoreline could reach 10-12 metres.

In the Reykjavík capital area, conditions are expected to improve after noon today, and in Southwest Iceland by around 4:00 PM. The Ring Road is closed between Reykjavík and Hveragerði, South Iceland. Readers can monitor weather conditions on the Icelandic Met Office website. And road conditions on road.is.

Gale-Force Winds, Rain, and Snow Across Iceland Tomorrow

yellow weather warning Icelandic Met Office

While in some countries yellow leaves are a sure sign of autumn, in Iceland the same can be said of yellow weather alerts. A low front will sweep in to the country tomorrow, hitting all regions with strong or even gale-force winds. South and Southeast Iceland, as well as the Faxaflói bay area, will also experience heavy rain tomorrow, while other regions may see precipitation in the form of rain or snow.

Strong gusts of wind are expected across the country tomorrow reaching speeds of up to 25 metres per second in several regions. Gusts will be particularly strong below mountains, making travel hazardous. Precipitation will likely be in the form of snow or sleet on mountain roads.

Residents are advised to secure outdoor furniture and avoid travel if possible. Road conditions are updated regularly on road.is and weather information is available on the Icelandic Met Office website. Weather should improve by Tuesday evening in the west and Wednesday morning in the east of the country.