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  • Writer's pictureScandinavian Travel

How Cold Does It Get in Iceland? Winter Guide!

If you're considering a trip to this enchanting land, you might be curious about just how cold it can get. Well, the temperature in Iceland can fluctuate quite a bit, influenced by factors like specific location, time of year, and even the year itself.


The Icelandic Winter: A Deeper Look


The Icelandic winter, from November to March, presents a fascinating study in contrasts. The country's geographical location just below the Arctic Circle suggests extreme cold, but thanks to the Atlantic Gulf Stream, the reality is quite different. This warm ocean current flows along the west and south coasts of Iceland, providing a moderating influence that prevents temperatures from plummeting as low as they do in other northern countries like Canada or Norway.


During these months, the landscape is often blanketed in snow, creating iconic winter scenes that are a draw for photographers and adventurers alike. However, winter also brings with it significant challenges. Daylight is scarce, especially in December when the sun barely crests the horizon for a few hours each day. This lack of light can affect everything from mood to the ability to travel and see the sights.



Sparse daylight over a snowy Icelandic landscape during the short winter days


Despite these conditions, winter is also a time of vibrant cultural activities and festivals, and many visitors find the dark days add a mystical element to the experience of natural phenomena such as the aurora borealis (northern lights) which are most visible during this period.


Temperature Overview: Details and Variations


In winter, while average temperatures do hover around 0°C (32°F), this number masks considerable variability across the country and within the season itself. In areas away from the coast, particularly in the north and at higher elevations, temperatures can routinely drop below -10°C (14°F). It is not uncommon for the interior highlands, largely inaccessible during winter, to see temperatures that reach -30°C (-22°F) during cold snaps.


The southern coast, which includes the capital city, Reykjavik, experiences milder conditions. Here, the influence of the Gulf Stream is strongest, often keeping winter temperatures closer to freezing and allowing for lighter snowfalls that melt more quickly. However, this does not mean the southern regions are warm.



Vibrant green Northern Lights dancing in the dark winter sky over Iceland


The wind plays a significant role in how cold the weather actually feels. Wind chill can reduce the perceived temperature by several degrees, making it crucial for anyone spending time outdoors to wear proper thermal and windproof clothing.


This phenomenon of strong winds is not to be underestimated. In Iceland, the wind can accelerate down mountainsides and across the open plains, reaching high speeds that dramatically increase the impact of the cold. These winds can turn a moderately cold day into a piercingly cold experience, capable of penetrating all but the most insulated layers of clothing.


Understanding these aspects of winter in Iceland helps tourists and residents alike prepare adequately for the conditions they might face. It's always advisable to check weather forecasts regularly and plan activities with an awareness of both the potential cold and the daylight hours available.


Seasonal Changes: A Detailed Exploration


Iceland experiences a unique climate due to its location near the Arctic Circle and its exposure to various ocean currents. Winter in Iceland isn’t just about a consistent drop in temperature; it's characterized by a variability that can alter the landscape and travel conditions significantly from one year to the next.


Variability in Winter


The winter season in Iceland is marked by its unpredictability. Some years, the winters can be relatively mild, with temperatures rarely dipping far below freezing, making outdoor activities and travel less daunting. These milder winters often result in lighter snowfalls that are manageable and do not disrupt daily life or travel as significantly.



Frozen Seljalandsfoss waterfall with icy cliffs and snow-covered surroundings in Iceland

Conversely, other winters can be exceptionally harsh, with severe cold spells and frequent heavy snowfalls that blanket the entire country. During such winters, the snow can accumulate quickly, transforming the landscape into a rigorous environment that challenges even the hardiest residents and travelers. Roads may be impassable, and the risk of avalanches increases in certain areas.


Transitional Months: October and April


October and April serve as the bookends to the traditional Icelandic winter. These months are considered transitional because they straddle the conditions between winter and spring. In October, as the country moves deeper into autumn, temperatures begin to drop, and daylight hours decrease rapidly. Snow may start to appear, particularly in northern regions and higher altitudes, and the first frost usually occurs.


April, on the other hand, signals the onset of spring. The snow and ice begin to melt, especially in lower-lying and coastal areas, and the daylight hours increase significantly. However, this month can still experience winter-like conditions, particularly in the first half, when snowstorms and freezing temperatures are still possible.


Temperature Overview: Monthly Data


To illustrate the typical temperature variations throughout the Icelandic winter and the transitional months, here is a table that outlines average temperatures for each month from October to April:


Month

Average High (°C)

Average Low (°C)

Description

October

7

1

Beginnings of frost, less daylight

November

3

-1

More pronounced cold, early snows

December

2

-3

Peak winter, shortest days

January

1

-3

Deep winter, very cold

February

2

-2

Still cold, but days lengthen

March

3

-1

Easing of winter conditions

April

6

0

Transition to spring, melting snow


Preparing for Icelandic Weather


One key piece of advice for visitors is to prepare for variability. Layering clothing is essential, as conditions can change rapidly. Waterproof and windproof outerwear is a must-have, as windy and wet conditions are common.


Daylight Hours


Daylight varies significantly during the winter months. December offers the shortest days, with Reykjavik experiencing only about 4-5 hours of light daily. Conversely, by March, the daylight hours extend significantly, offering more time for sightseeing and exploring.


Visiting Iceland in winter can be a magical experience, highlighted by spectacular natural phenomena such as the Northern Lights. Understanding and preparing for the cold is crucial to enjoying all that Iceland has to offer during its winter months. With the right preparation, including considering campervan rental in Iceland, a winter trip to Iceland can be comfortable, exhilarating, and unforgettable.


Frequently Asked Questions


What are the coldest months in Iceland?


The coldest months in Iceland are typically January and February when temperatures can drop significantly, especially in the northern and inland areas of the country.


Is Iceland really cold in summer?


Icelandic summers are mild, with average temperatures ranging from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F). While not "cold" by winter standards, the temperatures are considerably cooler than those found in much of Europe and North America during the same period.


How cold is it in Iceland in winter?


In winter, average temperatures hover around 0°C (32°F), but the perceived temperature can be much lower due to wind chill. The interiors and northern parts of the country can experience colder weather, sometimes dropping below -10°C (14°F).


Does it snow a lot in Iceland?


Snowfall in Iceland can vary greatly by region and year. While snow is common in the winter, especially in the north and at higher elevations, some winters see less snow than others. Coastal areas might experience more rain than snow at times.


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