Did you nearly get blown away this past weekend? Did your Saturday night get wild in a way you weren’t intending?
Intense and blustery winds often accompany the fall and winter storms in Iceland. While Icelanders (and those who have been living here for some time) know that fall means it is time to tie down the family trampoline so that it doesn’t blow away, many visitors are not familiar with the rough weather from this time of year.
The fall in Iceland is typically wet and rainy – but that isn’t really out of the ordinary for Iceland’s year-round weather patterns! But Icelanders know that the summer rains are tame compared to the autumn storms. So, if you have an outdoors project, you want to try to finish up soon!
The Gulf Stream helps keep Reykjavík’s temperature mild. It doesn’t get very warm in the summer, but it also doesn’t get that cold in the winter. However, the Gulf Stream also brings wind currents up into the north during the autumn season. When these warm winds collide with the cold North Atlantic wind currents, heavy rains, powerful winds, and intense storms are produced. And our little island is nestled just below this celestial battleground.
In general, the autumn storms simply make it miserable to be outside. We recommend curling up with a book and waiting for the weather to pass – the storms usually last about a day. But they can also appear suddenly and dissolve without notice.
Some storms are far more intense. Winds blow down trees, carry off trampolines, and make some roads dangerous to drive on. Icelanders who grew up with these intense storms either know better than to travel on these days or are used to it. But the number of tourists and immigrants living in Iceland who were less familiar with Iceland’s weather patterns posed a problem.
2017 Warning System
In 2017, the Icelandic Met Office unveiled its solution to this problem – a colour system that classified storms according to their strength. Other European nations use a similar system for storms and extreme weather. The thought is simple: rather than asking visitors to Iceland to check the weather forecast – which can be overwhelming if you don’t know the symbols or what you are looking for – you ask them to learn four colours: green, yellow, orange, and red.
Colour-coded alerts are issued in cases of extreme weather, and the system is rather simple. Green means go on about your day. Yellow is a warning – beware of high winds. Orange means that there are more than just strong winds, and the weather can be dangerous. And red is a state of emergency.
Vedur.is provides a map with the affected areas shaded in with the appropriate colour. Next to the map, you can find text describing the expected weather in detail such as wind speed and which areas are most likely to be affected, as well as indications of the expected severity and likeliness of the weather. At the bottom of the page is a legend that suggests how long the extreme weather is expected to last.
Orange You Glad You Checked the Forecast?!
Icelanders met the introduction of this system with eye rolls and misgivings, especially when, in the first few months of its use, a red warning was issued for a rather mild storm. This wasn’t necessarily the Met Office’s fault, as Icelandic weather is notoriously fickle and can change quickly.
However, the Icelandic Met Office has since figured out the system. The colour system is extremely helpful for both tourists and locals, who now know what to expect. A yellow warning means that you might want to stay inside if you can. Orange means don’t travel if you can avoid it. And red means bunker down and wait for the storm to pass – do not travel during a red warning!
So, what are the alternatives if a weather warning has been issued? Some tours are likely to be cancelled, such as whale-watching or northern lights. But if you want to get out during a day with a yellow warning, the best option is to book a tour so that an experienced and expert bus driver gets you around. Here is a list of some great bad-weather tours!
We also recommend popping into one of Reykjavík’s many museums so your day is not wasted! Visit Sundhöllin, one of Reykjavík’s only indoor pools, and enjoy the warm geothermal water while the wind blows outside. Other inside options include FlyOver Iceland, indoor rock-climbing, or a cosy cafe.
But we ask that if the warnings are orange – and particularly if there is a red warning – that you do not travel. It may be annoying to cancel plans, but ignoring this system can be extremely dangerous. Why not use the extra time to read some of Iceland’s celebrated literature, such as Halldór Laxness’s Independent People. You can also find a few great Icelandic series on Netflix. Binge Entrapped, Katla, or Bröt – and the storm will be over before you know it.