Weather in Iceland: If you don't like it, wait ten minutes and try again

The Berserkjahraun under clouds. Photo by Laura Ridpath

The weather in Reykjavík is uninspiring. Winters are about the same temperature as Hamburg, but summers don’t get as warm. It is milder than you would think in winter: the temperature only dips a few degrees below zero, nothing like the freezes felt in Chicago or Moscow, which are much further south. Trouble is, it doesn’t get that warm in summer: temperatures rarely rise above 15 °C - the average high is only 13 °C in July.

The real problem is the wind and the rain. Rain comes in many different forms. When it rains hard, it can feel like someone pouring a bucket of water on your head. Or it can feel like someone throwing a bucket of water at you from the pavement, if it’s windy. No umbrella has been known to survive in Iceland: they die rapidly, torn to shreds by the wind. There are two ways of dealing with the wind. One is to face directly into it and lean. The other is to stay inside and read a book.

However, they say that if you don’t like the weather in Reykjavík, just wait ten minutes and try again. That wind blows a series of weather fronts in from the Atlantic, where the warm water of the Gulf Stream creates small angry balls of low pressure, which sweep through Iceland, bringing dark clouds, heavy rain, but then crystal-clear skies, puffy clouds and rainbows. Lots of beautiful rainbows, many of them doubles.

They say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. I’m not convinced by this. Icelanders mock tourists in Reykjavík for walking around their capital in cagoules or bright ski jackets. Icelanders own stylish dark-coloured coats, waterproof and windproof with warm padding and hoods for walking around the city. I suspect these are expensive. They have another wardrobe of expensive outdoor gear for prancing around the countryside in blizzards. Their fancy city coats would make no sense in Milan or Madrid, or even London or Paris, so I am with the tourists. If Thor, or whoever, is chucking buckets of water down on Reykjavík, then wear your bright orange rain jacket and be damned. Just don’t rely on an umbrella to protect you.

Reykjavík is in the south-west corner of Iceland and receives the brunt of the Atlantic weather. To the north, in Akureyri, the weather is slightly better. On the mountains - and much of Iceland is mountainous - the weather is naturally worse: the wind stronger and the temperature lower. Large areas of the highlands in the uninhabited interior of the country lie in rain shadow and don’t receive any rainfall at all. They are effectively deserts. Deserts with rivers, as meltwater from glaciers fifty kilometres away rushes through them on the way to the sea.

The photograph above is of three Ridpaths enjoying the weather in Iceland.

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