Posted by: neilh10 | February 9, 2011

The weather in the Westfjords

One of the many frequently asked questions by people considering making a visit to the Westfjords, is what is the weather like. This is my attempt at responding.

The first thing I would say is that the weather in the Westfjords is always interesting, compared to the mundane boring weather we get in the UK. The Westfjords are worth visiting at any time of year, as long as you are prepared for your trip. The problem with the weather in Iceland is that it is unpredictable and difficult to know to expect, so its probably best to prepare for the worst weather imaginable.

(from youtube

Preperation, therefore, is key. You certainly wouldn’t want to find yourself kayaking in the kinds of waters that fishermen have to deal with in the depths of winter, for example those shown in the video above.

But, its unlikely that things will be as extreme as that. There are some common themes to the weather in the Westfjords in the different seasons, and I have tried to outline them here.

Winter

If you visit the Westfjords between December and March, it will probably be below freezing and there is a likelihood that there will be snow. This is a good time to go skiing in the area, there are downhill slopes and cross country slopes, and fantastic opportunities for backcountry skiing, or snow shoeing, or other winter sports. Winter is also the best time to see the northern lights. Although it is not possible to guarantee that you will see northern lights, you have a much better chance here than you would if you stick around Reykjavik.

Spring

Spring is a strange kind of ‘in between’ season in the Westfjords. The snow can last through to May, but it increasingly becomes confined to the mountains, which remain covered in snow right in to the spring. Meanwhile, the days get longer and the temperatures rise, making the area more hospitable to visitors. The weather is quite unpredictable, it could be snowing one day and bright sunshine the next, but the area is of course free of tourists.

Summer

Summer (June – August) is the main tourist season in the Westfjords, and it is easy to understand why. There is 24 hour sunlight and (if you are lucky) blazing sunshine. There is even a sunbathing area at the local swimming pool. Last year, there was rarely a day in June and July where the temperature was below 20 degrees. A lot of people travel up to the area, from Reykjavik and overseas, and whilst the influx of people does not change the character of the area, it can be difficult to find accommodation.

Autumn

The Autumn months are normally calm and quiet, as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder. Like Spring, the weather in Autumn is quite unpredictable – last year in October there were warm and sunny days, followed by cold nights with the northern lights. Like Spring, it is an ‘inbetween’ season. It is hospitable and pleasant, without either the extremes of 24 hour sunlight or four foot of snow in the winter.

Practical considerations

However, in reality, the weather really is so extreme and unpredictable, it is hard to make set plans based on what the weather will be like. You need to take whatever comes in your stride, and make the most of it. That is all you can really do. But, as I said earlier, it is good to be prepared. Here are some tips.

1. Check the weather forecast

Like the English, the Icelanders obsess over the weather – although perhaps they have better reasons to. The first thing you should do before planning a trip is to check out the weather forecast, at the web pages of the Icelandic Met office . The pages are in English as well as Icelandic and are as reliable as it is possible to be, when it comes to predicting the weather.

2. Check the road conditions

The Icelandic Road Administration provide a map of Iceland providing up to the minute advice on the condition of each and every road in the country. Each road is rated on a colour coded map and set on a scale of easily passable (green), to impassable (red) with six stages in between.

3. Get the right vehicle

If you are hiring a car in winter it is strongly recommended that you get a 4×4, with winter tyres. This is because there is often Ice and Snow on the road up from Reykjavik, and there can also be quite a build up of snow on the mountain passes around Holmavik, and having a high clearance vehicle will reduce the likelihood of you getting stuck and requiring help from the road administration.

4. Get a decent road atlas/map

Following on from point 3, I would suspect that Iceland is not a particularly good place to be relying on a GPS. The reason is that the key issue in terms of deciding which road to take is the quality and condition of the road, more so than what provides the most direct route. This is why I advise getting a good road atlas or map, and not bothering with a GPS. A good atlas, such as this one not only provides advice on road conditions, it also provides detailed information about your surroundings – more helpful than an automated GPS voice.

If you are flying, be aware that the flight can get cancelled or diverted

In winter, the flight from Reykjavik to Isafjordur is somewhat unpredictable. It is scheduled to go twice a day, but in reality, it goes when the weather allows. Sometimes an entire day can go by with no flight. Whilst it is statistically unlikely that your flight will be cancelled, I recommend that you do not plan your trip around a tight connection in Reykjavik, particularly when flying back home.

The other advice about the weather I can offer is obviously take some warm clothing, even in summer, and try not to plan too much, as the weather has a habit of interrupting your plans, unfortunately.

I hope this gives some useful guidance. If you have any specific questions about the weather, or any other question about the Westfjords, I am more than happy to try to answer it. Send me an email, or leave a comment below and I will get back to you.

If you are planning to visit the Westfjords and are looking for somewhere to stay, consider my apartment .

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Responses

  1. Hello,

    Thank you for your very interesting and informative article. I’m sure I will be reading it again and again. I am extending a brief tour (my very first) to Island. I want to add on 6 days so I can explore the Westfjords area. I have been told that the roads in the north can be icy in October (6-11). I am wondering if it is realistic to attempt to tour Westfjords in early October or if the roads are likely to be treacherous.

    Also, are you familiar with Isafjordur or the Heydalur guest house? Any thoughts you have would be very appreciated.

    Sandra Festian sjfnokomis@uplogon.com

    • Hi there. Touring the Westfjords in October should be fine. I think it is unlikely that there would be snow and ice at the time you are considering making a visit – so my advice is not to let these worries hold you back. If October 2011 is anything like October 2010, it will still feel like summer (if a little cooler).

      I haven’t ever been to Heydalur, but it gets good reviews, such as the 2009 guardian article (see the links to the page). Isafjordur is a beautiful town, and the capital of the northern westfjords region. My apartment, which I rent out (see the ‘apartment’ page of this website), is Flateyri, a village just outside of Isafjordur. It makes for a good base to explore the wider region.

  2. Hi,

    I am planning a trip to the Westfjords in February. Any recommendations on what to do/see during that time? Is it better to visit in the summer? Thanks for your help!

    • Hi Chris

      You should do it! – My advice on visiting the Westfjords in wintertime is set out in my post here:

      https://westfjords.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/visiting-the-westfjords-in-winter/

      Neil

      • Thanks, Neil! How many days would you recommend for hiking and cross country skiing to the main sights? Is 7 days enough? Also, is your apartment available for rent during the last week of February?

      • Hi Chris – I just emailed you. Cheers!

  3. Hi, I am planning a trip to west fjords on december this year, but i would like to know how high the average temperature inside any place, and if it is too different with the outside temperature. Thank u!


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