Weather and Road Conditions in Iceland
The weather in Iceland is famously unpredictable, especially in the autumn and winter months (from October until May), but it is important to stay up to date with the latest forecasts year round.
⚠️ Even the main road can very easily become impassable!
Particularly vulnerable sections of the main road are Hellisheiði, between Hvolsvöllur and Vík, from Skaftafell to Jökulsárlón, Fagridalur just south of Egilsstaðir, and between Egilsstaðir and Mývatn — but many other parts of the road can also easily become closed in certain weather situations.
Due to the extremely localised weather phenomena, international forecast websites such as Apple Weather, Windy, etc. are usually not very accurate for small scale weather – typical grid sizes for those forecasts are in the range of 7-20km, whereas local Icelandic forecasts are calculated in grid cells as small as 600m!
The following websites should be your primary source of information on weather and road conditions while you are traveling within Iceland. It is essential to stay informed and check those sources every day before you leave, and multiple times throughout the day.
Current Road Conditions and Weather Stations
- www.trafficinfo.is — current road surface conditions and weather station data provided by the Icelandic Road Administration.
- www.safetravel.is — overall safety related information for traveling in Iceland, including an option to subscribe to SMS-based alerts. Operated by the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue.
- www.vedur.is (Icelandic) / en.vedur.is (English) — Official website and forecast from the Icelandic Meteorological Office
- en.vedur.is/alerts — current weather warnings issued by the IMO
- www.belgingur.is — another Icelandic weather forecast service, providing very high resolution forecasts
Reading conditions and forecasts
Perhaps the most important aspect of Icelandic weather reports and conditions is that wind speeds are generally reported in meters per second (m/sec). To convert to mph, double the value and then add 10% (for 20 m/sec: 2*20 = 40, +10% = 44 mph). To convert to km/h, multiply by four and then subtract 10% (again, for 20 m/sec: is 4*20 = 80, -10% = 72 km/h).
Due to the extremely localised weather phenomena, one should never trust a “station forecast” to be accurate anywhere except for that precise location. For any travel decisions, it is crucial to read and understand the forecast maps (which necessitates a basic understanding of Icelandic geography and being able to pinpoint the planned route and locations on the way). If necessary, always cross reference with Google Maps or other source for route mapping.
When studying wind forecasts, winds that come from mountains down into the land below (typical with northerly wind directions between Hvolsvöllur and Vík, or between Skaftafell and Höfn) must be expected to be particularly gusty.
Safe wind speeds
On dry roads and good visibility, with regular passenger cars wind speeds of about 20-22 m/sec should be considered the limit for safe driving. Keep in mind that wind gusts can easily reach 1.5 – 2x those speeds.
For large, lightweight vehicles (camper vans, RVs, etc.) many vehicle rentals specify a limit of 15 m/sec.
Snowfall or icy roads can make driving hazardous already at much lower wind speeds due to severely limited visibility and reduced traction. Even with wind speeds of 10m/sec, driving snow can essentially reduce visibility to zero and rapidly build up considerable snow drifts in certain areas. Even the main road is not immune to these effects and may become impassable.
Along the main road, you will sometimes encouter digital displays for upcoming locations displaying realtime weather information. This will be the wind direction (N/S/A/V = north/south/east/west), wind speed (in meters per second), temperature (in centigrade), and a red number (not always available) shows wind gusts (also in meters per second). Again, if either the wind speed or wind gusts exceed 22m/sec (or 15m/sec for camper vans), it is advisable to avoid driving into those areas.