Considering the northerly location of Iceland, its climate is much milder than might be expected, especially in winter. The average annual temperature for Reykjavík is 5 C, the average January temperature being -0.4 C and July 11.2 C. The annual rainfall on the south coast is about 3000 mm, whereas in the highlands north of Vatnajökull it drops to 400 mm or less.
Iceland’s southern and western coasts experience relatively mild winter temperatures thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. July and August are the warmest months and the chances of fine weather improve as you move north and east. While they’re more prone to clear weather than the coastal areas, the interior deserts can experience other problems such as blizzards and high winds that whip up dust and sand into swirling, gritty maelstroms.
Coastal areas in Iceland tend to be windy and gales are common, especially in winter. Thunderstorms are extremely rare. It must be remembered that the weather in Iceland can change very rapidly so make sure to check the weather forecast to see what is in store. In the winter you can never be too cautious if you are planning on travelling outside the capital area.
For two months in the summer there is continuous daylight in Iceland. Spring and autumn also enjoy long periods of twilight. Depending on how far north you are in Iceland there are some days or weeks in June when you can still see the sun at 12 o’clock midnight. This is possible in Reykjavik from around 18th – 24th June. There are special tours offered to the island of Grimsey, which is the only part of Iceland to lie within the Arctic Circle. Here visitors can experience the magic of seeing the sun never set.
The winter darkness, with only three to four hours’ daylight, lasts from around November until the end of January.
The Northern Lights
The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular and beautiful of nature’s phenomena. In classic mythology, Aurora was the Roman goddess of the dawn; while „boreal is a Latin word, meaning „north. From ancient times the Aurora Borealis has intrigued mankind and the phenomenon features prominently in the mythology and folklore of those living in northerly latitudes. Iceland is very well placed for aurora viewing. Around the poles are so called “Aurora Ovals” which are belts around the geomagnetic poles where auroras are formed. These belts vary in size according to the strength of the solar winds that cause the auroras. Iceland is in the most active part of the Aurora Oval in the northern hemisphere which means that auroras can almost always be seen as long as there is clear sky. The best time of year for viewing the aurora is the period from September through March. In the summertime the aurora cannot be seen because of the long daylight hours. During a moderate to large auroral display, which can last up to three hours, the amount of energy released is roughly equivalent to that of a small nuclear explosion. Typically, a display lasts a few minutes and occurs a few times per night. Auroral activity is usually highest during the hours near midnight, when the widest part of the auroral oval passes over the observer.
Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) throughout the year, and does not change for daylight saving time. When it is noon in Reykjavik during the summer it is 08:00 in New York City, 13:00 in London, 14:00 in Paris, 14:00 in Oslo, 14:00 in Luxembourg, 14:00 in Rome and 21:00 in Tokyo.
The weather in Iceland is very fickle. The most basic and necessary clothing items, regardless of the time of year, are a sweater, a waterproof windbreaker and sturdy shoes. Jeans are not very practical as they tend to become very cold when wet and take a long time to dry. Swimwear should be brought along as there are warm outdoor pools and whirlpools all around Iceland. Swimming and relaxing in the whirlpools are very popular activities whatever the weather.