How Windy Does It Really Get In Iceland?

Driving In Iceland During Slightly Windy, Icy Weather

One of the things that surprise first-time travelers to Iceland is how windy it can be. If you haven’t read any of the travel boards or talked to someone who has visited, the Nordic island’s stronger than average gusts might catch you off-guard. People planning a trip to Iceland often research what the weather is like, average temperatures, rainfall, and climate. These are all important things to know. The wind is also something to keep in mind in order to ensure driving safety during your trip. So just how windy does it get in Iceland? And what precautions do you need to exercise when traveling here? In the country where wind speeds can reach up to those of a Category 4 hurricane, it’s important to know what to expect and how to prepare.

Girl With Windblown Umbrella And Bad Weather In Iceland

Average wind speeds in Iceland

Iceland experiences a wide range of wind speeds throughout the year, with variations depending on location, season, and weather patterns. The average wind speed across the country can vary significantly but generally falls within the range of 13 to 18 miles per hour (mph). However, certain areas, especially those along the coast or in higher elevations, often encounter stronger winds. During the winter months, from November to March, the wind speeds can increase considerably, influenced by Iceland’s position near the Arctic Circle and the frequent low-pressure systems that pass through the North Atlantic. In contrast, the summer months tend to be slightly calmer, though sudden wind gusts can occur unexpectedly due to Iceland’s dynamic weather.

Seasonal variations

  • Winter: The strongest winds are typically recorded in the winter, when the temperature difference between the Arctic and the equator is most pronounced, leading to more intense weather systems. Average speeds can soar, making outdoor activities and driving more challenging.
  • Spring and Autumn: These transition seasons can be unpredictable, with rapid changes in weather conditions. Wind speeds can fluctuate dramatically, sometimes within the same day.
  • Summer: Generally milder, but still capable of producing strong gusts, especially in open areas and near the coast.

Historical data on the most extreme wind events

  • Vestmannaeyjar, 1991: The aforementioned gusts of 149 mph set a record for Iceland and showcased the potential power of winter storms in the North Atlantic.
  • Dyrafjörður, 2015: A strong storm in the Westfjords led to wind gusts exceeding 130 mph (209 km/h), causing significant disruptions and showcasing the wide-reaching impact of Iceland’s wind.

These statistics and records serve as a testament to Iceland’s dynamic and often unpredictable climate, influenced by its unique geographical location. Visitors and residents alike are continually reminded of the power and beauty of nature, as the wind shapes the landscape and defines the Icelandic experience.

When the wind becomes a challenger in Iceland

Driving in Iceland’s winds: Security tips

Navigating Iceland’s roads can be an adventure, particularly when the wind decides to challenge your journey. Here are some tips for driving in windy conditions:

  • Always check the weather forecast and road conditions before setting out, especially during winter.
  • Use vehicles with a lower profile if possible, as high-sided vehicles are more susceptible to strong gusts.
  • Keep both hands on the wheel, and be prepared for sudden gusts, especially when driving near mountains or through open areas.
  • If the wind becomes too strong, it’s safer to find a place to wait it out rather than risking your safety.

Stories of unexpected adventures spurred by the wind

Many travelers in Iceland have tales of unexpected detours and adventures brought on by the wind. From being literally blown off course and discovering hidden gems off the beaten path, to forming spontaneous connections with locals while seeking shelter, these stories add a unique chapter to the Iceland experience.

The impact on daily life and infrastructure

Icelanders have adapted to their windy environment in remarkable ways. Daily life continues with a keen awareness of the weather, and plans are often made with a flexible attitude towards sudden changes brought by the wind.

In terms of infrastructure, buildings in Iceland are designed to withstand the elements, incorporating features such as reinforced structures and wind-resistant materials. Public spaces and transportation systems are also planned with the wind in mind, ensuring safety and minimizing disruption during high-wind events.

Iceland’s Wind Can Be a Bit Scary

Now I don’t want to frighten you, but I am going to be real with you. There are instances when winds will reach 30-40 mph (48-64 km/h) or when you might have to cling to objects such as fences or signposts to keep from being blown away or down to the ground. This is the worst-case scenario of course. That being said, there are some ways to avoid this dramatic fate. Diligently check the weather forecast and strongly heed Icelanders’ warnings when they say “It’s going to be really windy today”. Trust me; we know what we’re talking about. The last thing you need is wind lashing you in the face or not being able to stand up. And course you know to stay inside if there is a storm expected.

Severe weather warnings are issued by both the Icelandic Meteorological Office and the Road and Coastal Authority. Check their websites daily (or even multiple times a day) to be sure that the area where you’re traveling doesn’t have any warnings or weather advisories. During the big storm that hit Vik in 2015, winds reached 141 mph (226 km/h). Despite being warned, many tourists decided to drive in this weather, and as a result, their cars got blown off the road or otherwise stuck. Read up on forums like TripAdvisor about Iceland’s weather.  

Vik'S Black Sand Beach

Weather Resources for Iceland

Sites like windfinder.com also provide you with colored maps showing where winds are heaviest. You can also visit weather.com to look up the wind forecast for specific cities.

Now all of this isn’t to say that it’s super windy in Iceland all the time. We just want to prepare you for what could happen, especially if you are traveling along the South Coast or during winter. This week’s forecast for Reykjavik shows wind speeds ranging from 10-15 mph (16-24 kph), which is relatively mild.

Driving in Iceland’s Wind

Driving in Iceland presents its own particular set of challenges. Not only will you sometimes be dealing with icy or not very well paved roads, but you also have the wind to deal with. When gusts are particularly strong, you will find yourself struggling with the wheel in order to not get blown off the road. The smaller the vehicle, the more likely this is to happen. Please don’t drive if you know they are supposed to be high winds that day. Also, give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination. You may get caught in a windstorm or other unexpected severe meteorological event and need to pull over until it subsides.

A tip I want to give you when driving in Iceland has to do with taking care of your car rental. No matter how gently the wind is blowing, never ever leave your doors ajar. Not even for a second. In the time it takes you to step out of the vehicle and snap a gorgeous photo, a sudden gust of wind can come either bend your door back to cause dents (or other serious damage that you’ll have to pay the rental company for) or in extreme cases, blow it off completely. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t leave your doors open.

Another tip is to open the car door using both hands. Use one to steady the door and the other to actually open it.

Wind Blowing Snow Across Icelandic Landscape

Camping in Iceland – Is It Too Windy To Use a Tent?

We’ve had people ask us if it’s safe to go tent camping in Iceland due to the wind. While strong wind conditions are not ideal, we do want to say that in general, it’s not so windy that your tents stakes will be pulled up out of the ground and whisked away á la Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. There are two big takeaways that I want to stress, however. First, the weather is more gentle in the summer. If you’re planning on tent camping in Iceland, it’s best to do it then. On a related note, even though it’s summer, you’ll still want to bring an all season tent. These tents are designed to withstand high winds and low temperatures. They usually have a frame made out of a sturdy material like aluminum.

The second caveat is that if you’re going tent camping, be sure to have a backup plan (like sleeping in your car) if the winds do happen to get really strong during your trip. You could also choose to rent a campervan and have the best of both worlds. You’ll travel in a vehicle that has overnight heating and protects you from the elements. During times when the weather is nice, you can set up camp with your tent and sleep in the Great Outdoors.

How Windy Does It Really Get In Iceland?

Like many things in life, the answer is: it depends. If you’re spending a week in Iceland in the middle of August, you may never encounter extreme weather. If you’ve decided to travel in the winter and you arrive in the middle of a storm, you may have to wait a few days to drive anywhere or turn back when you see conditions worsening. Just use common sense along with the resources at your disposal to travel safely and arrive at your destination in one piece.

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