How's the weather in Iceland?

Posted by gudrun@grayline.is on 25 Jan 2021

One of the most common replies among Icelanders when discussing events in the future is: „depends on the weather“. The weather is such a huge factor of everyday life in Iceland and often dictates whether we will be able to attend a friend‘s wedding, see our family over Christmas, or other things that might require going from one part of the country to another. We discuss the weather constantly and enthusiastically. 

Iceland is of course located in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean, right by the Arctic circle. Therefore our climate is rather unpredictable, the seasons often don‘t follow the calendar and we usually have no idea what to expect. 

For the first few hundred years after Iceland was settled, our calendar had only two seasons: summer and winter. Each season had six months, and the first day of the season was considered a holiday. We still honour this old calendar in some ways, and the first day of summer is a public holiday in Iceland and is still celebrated in various ways, even if it‘s snowing! 

Here are some tips on what to expect weatherwise in Reykjavik each month, but remember that it might be drastically different in other parts of the country! 

January:

Average temperature is around 0°C/32°F but feels a lot colder with the windchill. Expect snow and wind. Since the temperature is around freezing point, the snow melts and refreezes, making the ground icy and slippery. The penguin walk is the best way to avoid slipping on the ice. There are about 5-6 hours of daylight, plus a few twilight hours. These longer nights mean you have more hours of darkness to search for the Northern Lights or enjoy the nightlife!

February:

Average temperature is still around 0°C/32°F, snowy and windy conditions are still very likely, but at least the days are getting longer and brighter! In February we get 8-9 hours of daylight. You will likely experience snow, sleet and rain, but you will probably see some sun as well. Still a good time for Northern Lights.

March: 

This is when there is usually enough snow to open the ski slopes near Reykjavik. Theoretically this is is one of the best months for Northern Lights (along with September) since the Aurora has a higher chance of being strong around the equinox. Here we have some 10-11 hours of daylight, so you might just have to stay up a bit longer for proper darkness to hit. Weather in March is often very unpredictable, since one day it‘s deep winter and the next day it feels like spring is right around the corner. Be prepared for some snow and a lot of sleet, since the average temperatures are sneaking above freezing, all the way to blistering 1°C/34°F. 

April:

Yes, the first day of summer in Iceland (calendar-wise) is in April. Still, spring has barely arrived at this point. While flowers are starting to bloom and trees are sprouting fresh green leaf buds in most other countries in the Northern hemisphere, the flora here is a bit late to the party. But the days are getting even longer, with around 13-14 hours of daylight! Average temperature is 3°C/37°F, but on good days it might even go up to double digits. By Mid-April the nights have gotten too short and bright for any real chances of Northern Lights, but instead the migratory birds start flocking back to Iceland after spending winter somewhere further south. And that includes our favourite bird, the puffin! 

May:

Finally it starts to feel like spring. Average temperature is 6.5°C/44°F, the sun is up for 18 hours and it doesn‘t ever get fully dark at night. That means twilight hours are long, so you have plenty of time to get that perfect golden-hour selfie for instagram. This is a magical time to be in Iceland. There might still be some nighttime frost, but on average May is the driest month out of the year so not a lot of rain is to be expected. Snowfall is rare in Reykjavik at this time of year. 

June:

Icelanders usually feel like June is the „real“ first summer month, since this is when school holidays start. In June we have the midnight sun, and the sun never fully sets during the night and we have around 20-21 hours of daylight. Average temperature might be only 10°C/50°F but if the sun is out it feels a lot warmer. After what feels like endless winter, Icelanders grab the chance of soaking up the summer if the weather is right. It is not uncommon for workplaces (both independent companies, larger corporations and government offices) to give their staff a half-day off in summer if the weather forecast is especially good, in case the rest of the summer will be bad. A common joke in Iceland goes: „I hope this year, the summer will be on a weekend!“. We know from experience that some years there are only a handful of nice summer days, and we try to make the most of them. June is on average the second driest month of the year. 

July:

This is when most Icelanders go on summer vacation and travel domestically. We go on camping trips or rent summerhouses in the countryside to get closer to nature. The days are still long, with approximately 18 hours of daylight, and since it doesn‘t ever get fully dark you never really want to go to bed at night. Average temperature is around 12°C/54°F and July is usually both the warmest and the least windy month of the year. On the best of days the temperature might even go above 20°C/68°F!

August:

The first Monday in August is a national holiday, and the three day weekend is put to good use by most Icelanders. Large festivals are held in different parts of the country, the largest being Þjóðhátíð in the Westman Islands. At these festivals both locals and visitors get together to celebrate the joys of life with music, good food, cultural events and of course lots of drinking. After the long weekend, it often feels like summer is mostly over. The days are getting shorter, with only 16 hours or so of daylight. The darker nights aren‘t all that bad though, since the Northern Lights start being visible again around Mid-August (although you have to stay up pretty late in order to try to glimpse them). Average temperatures stay around 10°C/50°F, but winds and rain become more frequent in the later part of the month.

September:

September is usually not very cold, although there might be the occasional frosty night leaving the mountaintops with a sprinkle of snow. Icelanders take down their trampolines, all outside furniture and caravans, and lock them up inside barns and garages. This is in preparation for the notorious phenomenon known as haustlægð. The direct translation for haustlægð would be “autumnal low-pressure weather system”. Many of these low-pressure weather systems are remnants of tropical hurricanes and storms in the North-Atlantic Ocean that have drifted northwards until they hit the shores of Iceland. That means high winds and lots of rain. With only 12-13 hours of daylight we accept that summer is over, which means that it’s time to get the sheep back down from the mountains where they have roamed free all summer. Winter is near, Northern Lights are often visible (on clear nights), and there might be occasional snowy days. Usually it just rains though, since the average temperature is still around 8°C/46°F throughout the month. Don’t count on being able to use an umbrella since it often rains sideways.

October:

October is still autumn, but leaning into winter. Nighttime temperatures dip below freezing more often and storms are still common. This is usually the best time to see the autumn colours in nature. Although Iceland doesn’t have a lot of big leafy trees, large areas are covered with birch shrubbery whose leaves turn a multitude of different shades, from golden to orange and dark red. This is especially striking in areas such as Þingvellir national park where it contrasts with the mossy lava fields. Daylight is for around 9 hours per day, but you can feel the days getting shorter every day. Average temperature is around 6°C/43°F, but the wind often makes it feel colder.

November:

First full month of winter. It can be very cold and icy, but still not a lot of snow in lower altitudes. Now that the sun is only up for about 5-6 hours every day, many Icelanders start putting up Christmas lights to brighten our surroundings. Temperatures are on average around 3°C/37°F so we highly recommend dressing warmly to keep comfortable.

December:

December would probably be very difficult to tolerate if it weren’t for the Christmas lights, since the sun is only up for around 4 hours a day (and that’s in Reykjavik, while up north the daylight hours go down to 2.5 hours!). Average temperature is -1°C/30°F, but if you’re wearing proper wool undergarments and waterproof outer layers, you will hardly notice the cold. Still, like at other times throughout the year, almost any weather is to be expected. You could experience snow and ice with -10°C one day, and then the next day it might be +5°C with wind and rain. Icelanders have the perfect solution to get through this month: Good company, good food and all-around laziness. And try to not get eaten by the Yule Cat.

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