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Surviving the Icelandic Weather

It’s not that cold, but our tiny island is called Iceland!  However, it’s not that hot either.  But we do have hot springs and volcanoes!  In summer there’s 24-hours daylight, and winters are dark with all kinds of storms. Also, since we’re a small volcanic rock in the North Atlantic, it’s windy all the time.  Therefore, if you’re planning a trip to Iceland, how will you survive the Icelandic weather?  Today, you’ll find lots of tips and tricks to learn from so you can be more prepared…

Iceland Temperatures

Despite the country being named after ice, Iceland is not that cold by most country’s standards as we alluded to in our opening.  Why?  Because we are within Gulf Stream.  To illustrate, this climate system brings warm water to the shores of Iceland from Mexico.  Meanwhile, because of Iceland’s location on top of a geological “hot spot,” the country has temperate weather as well. 

Basically, in general terms, this means there aren’t many extremes in temperatures like in let’s say Midwest America.  First, temperatures are on average around 10-15°C (50-60°F) in summer, and around freezing in winter (-5 to +5°C or 23-40°F).  Further, it’s rare that Icelandic weather dips down into double digits below freezing in winter unless it’s on a mountaintop (14°F or lower).

What Kind of Weather Happens in Iceland?

Next, the windchill in Iceland is a factor you can not ignore and must prepare for if visiting during wintertime.  Additionally, be aware that the Icelandic weather is so windy, that our language has close to 200 words describing different kinds of wind.  For real!  Subsequently, the wind that visitors need to mostly be aware of is when there is a storm with severe gale force. 

Gale Force Winds

Although Iceland does not get hurricanes, the winter storms are so frequent they can shut down roads for hours at a time.  Why?  Because the gale is strong enough to blow cars off the road, break windows, and even flip some vehicles.  For instance, the larger or taller the car, the more likely it’ll be blown over.  Therefore, big bus tours tend to cancel in very windy conditions.

So what can you do to get ready for such conditions? 

Important Weather Related Links:

  1. Check the road conditions and closures as often as possible on Road.is
  2. Keep an eye on the Icelandic weather in real time on Vedur.
  3. Log your plan or schedule on Safe Travel in case you do not arrive somewhere folks can know where you intended to go!

During wintertime, it does happen that people get trapped in towns in the countryside for a day or two whilst they wait for the storm to blow over.  So it’s important to build buffer time in your schedule just in case!  Especially, if you are driving the famed Ring Road around Iceland.  Also, on the South Coast, you will be driving through a long stretch of a black sand desert if you are heading east of the town of Vik to embark on one of our Glacier Tours

Sandstorms

Therefore, you do not want to be driving near the sand in stormy Icelandic weather.  Why?  For example, it can damage your car with small pebbles hitting your windscreen.  A sandstorm can also quite literally “sandblast” the paint off of your rental car.  Further, if there is a thick layer of snow or the ground is frozen then this shouldn’t be a problem.  But since Iceland’s temperature hovers around freezing even in the midst of winter, there’s no guarantee there will be snow or frozen ground.  So it’s advisable to get gravel protection for any rental cars you’re taking on Iceland’s South Coast. And although it’s less frequent, you can also get strong gusts of wind during summertime.

Window Weather

A third type of weather that’s quite common in Iceland is called “gluggaveður” or “window weather.”  Hands down our favorite Icelandic word!  That’s when you look out the window to see beautiful blue skies and gorgeous sunshine, making you think the weather is quite nice.  But, you’ll only be greeted by biting frost and a crazy windchill when you go outside.  So the key is to always make sure you dress warmly, a layer of thermal underwear comes in handy all throughout winter in Iceland, and even as a backup during summer as well.

Iceland Season by Season 

Most Icelanders would say that Iceland only has two seasons, Winter and Summer.  However, we believe there is a slight difference between which include the Spring and Fall as well.  The difference is more drastic in the North of the country.  But our Ice Pic Journeys team primarily operates on Iceland’s South Coast (with the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Highlands being exceptions) so we’ll focus on the Icelandic weather in the South.

Iceland in Fall

Fall takes place in the months of September and October.  This is when it starts to get dark at night and the Northern Lights begin to appear frequently.  Likewise, temperatures drop, it becomes more rainy, and it’s common to have strong wind gusts as well.  Also, the first sight of snow might happen in October or November.  Nut in Reykjavík and on the south coast the snow doesn’t tend to stick around on the ground for more than a day or two. 

Winter in Iceland

Winter comes in November and stays until March.   Meanwhile, there is a lot less daylight.  However, the daylight that does occur, it can look and feel like sunrise or sunset all day.  For instance, beautiful pink colors come through and will surprise you.  Nevertheless, during this season in Icelandic weather, you often get cold but crisp, beautiful sunny days.

In between those beautiful days are also some pretty intense snowstorm days, and the weather can change quickly.  Aurora Borealis can often be seen on clear nights.  Yet, when there is a clear sky it’s also colder since there are no clouds to retain the heat from the earth.  Since cloudy and stormy days may actually be warmer than the days filled with sunshine.

Also, there’s not much humidity in the air.  So the dry cold is easy to dress up with warm clothes.  Rather, unlike where the humidity crawls into your bones like many other places in mainland Europe or North America.  Regardless, it’s important to layer up!  In fact, our Amazon Storefront has some perfect recommendations for you!

Iceland in Spring

Spring takes place in April and May, the days become a lot brighter, by May there is already almost 24-hour daylight like it is for the whole summer so the northern lights are no longer visible. It may still snow occasionally in April or even May, but the flowers start to bloom and the migratory birds like the puffins start to arrive. 

Summer in Iceland

And finally, Summer takes place from June to August, with 24-hour daylight.  Likewise, as previously mentioned, the average temperature isn’t too high, but it can go up to 25°C (77°F) a few days out of the year.  Since the atmosphere is pretty dry, those few degrees can actually feel a lot warmer than their number seems to point out.  For example, our visitors are often surprised when they get sunburned in Iceland.  Especially when on the glacier, but that’s common because of the sun’s reflection of the ice.

How to Survive the Icelandic Weather

One thing that’s great about Iceland is that it is never cold indoors!  Due to all the geothermal activity, heating is done by using natural hot water in radiators and it is very affordable.  Another great thing is that you can also bathe in this hot water, in many natural hot springs and man-made jacuzzis.  To illustrate, every town will have a swimming pool with one or more jacuzzis.  And there is a very moderate entry fee that’s affordable for all budgets.

The best way to survive the Icelandic weather is to dress warmly and in layers.  Wool, silk and fleece are much better than denim and cotton, especially if you’re doing an activity.  Why?  Because denim and cotton stay wet for a long time and will for sure lead to a loss of body heat if you wear it while hiking.  Instead, wear some warm layers that are wind and rainproof, as well as waterproof hiking boots when you are out in the countryside.  Again, check out our favorite hiking boots, outerwear, and base layers on our Amazon Storefront!

Weather in Iceland Tips

Umbrellas are not of much use in Iceland, because the wind goes in all directions and often the rain is blowing up instead of down.  Many umbrellas meet their untimely death in Iceland’s windy conditions.  On especially windy days, it’s a good tip to hold onto every door you open with both hands, so it doesn’t suddenly blow open and smack a wall, or even blow off the handle – this is especially true for car doors.  Heck we are a place where waterfalls even flow upside down so take care! 

Although the Icelandic weather is unpredictable, you might think to wait to book tours in advance.  Tour companies always keep close tabs on the weather forecast and monitor any changes that may disrupt it.  After all, we always want our guests to be happy, so if the weather looks too bad to go out, or even dangerous, then the tour may be canceled and guests are either offered to rebook the tour or get a full refund.

Preparing in Advance for Your Iceland Adventure

In conclusion, the Icelandic weather forecast is highly likely to change in the days leading up to your travel.  As our local Vedur system can only give you a moderately accurate prediction 1-2 days in advance of your trip.  Thereupon, you should always make sure to check the weather forecast before going to bed the day before you leave just before you leave in the morning. 

Again, the Icelandic weather forecast (including an aurora forecast) can be found on Vedur.is and up-to-date road conditions can be checked on Road.is  Additionally, it’s a great rule of thumb to register your trip with Safe Travel and download their app which will send out your exact GPS coordinates to the emergency service if you run into trouble. Icelandic Search & Rescue teams run this website, so they can come rescue you in case you get stuck somewhere due to a quick change in the weather.  Lastly, Dress Warm, Check the Forecast and Stay Safe Friends!

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