Winter driving in Iceland means you can have snow, sleet, rain, ice, black ice, and high winds that blow cars off the road.
Most tourists seem to think snow is the problem. Snow can be challenging, but the real difference in Iceland is wind. The wind should not be underestimated. Imagine driving in December in total darkness. The roads are icy. You are on a narrow road and snow starts blowing and it´s a whiteout situation. Then, a huge gust of wind comes and since the roads are icy…you can find yourself off the road. In a ditch, in water, off a cliff. It depends on where you are. This happens. And people die. Average daylight in December is from about 11am till about 3:30pm.
Most tourists have plans they want to stick to. That doesn´t work for winter. There can be days where it isn´t safe to drive. You will have to stay put and miss your next stop. Are you willing to do that? Can you stay flexible? If not, come back in summer. Winter in Iceland is not for you.
I know it all sounds doom and gloom, but the warnings are real. Tourists are getting into accidents and dying on the road because they are not informed about the risks of driving.
Winter driving in other areas that have very low winter temperatures, can also be very different from winter driving in Iceland. In many other northern countries the temperatures in winter are very stable – always below freezing causing snow to just accumulate. This is not the case in Iceland, temperatures change rapidly and can go from -10°C to +10°C in a day, which means that the snow and ice is always melting and then freezing again. Roads are therefore often covered by slush, sometimes deep wet slush, and sometimes frozen slush with deep ruts that tyres get stuck in.
Then there are also certain types of mountains that make wind shears, so even if the wind is just a regular average 35 mph, then there might be a spot below a mountain where sudden gusts can reach 80 mph.
People that live in Iceland learn to make plans around the weather. Everything depends on the weather. If the weather looks bad and we’re planning to go somewhere, we know that we have to either cancel the plans, postpone them, or go much earlier than planned.
All the major roads have digital signs showing wind speed.
The numbers in the red on the right show the wind speed. Anything above 20 m/s means you should show caution and be prepared to turn around.
For reference, wind speeds in Iceland are displayed and reported (on roadside warning signs and on http://vedur.is) in meters per second: m/s.
1 meter per second = 3.6 km/h
1 meter per second = 2.2 mph
20 m/s is about 75 km/h or 45 mph.
If you get stuck then be careful to conserve fuel and keep the car ventilated. Rather than have the engine running all the time then alternate 1 hour on, 1 hour off. When on then have a ventilation crack in the window. If there is a lot of snow then make sure the exhaust is clear and the lights visible.
Important Important Important!!! When travelling in Iceland, especially during winter months, check the local weather conditions at least every hour. You can check the weather conditions at the following website:
Also another important website to check road conditions: http://www.road.is/
Another important website: https://safetravel.is/