Weather in Iceland | Everything You Need to Know

08. Aug 2019 |16 min read

Despite being just south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland enjoys a surprisingly mild climate all year round. The temperatures don't vary considerably between winter and summer, and yet the seasons are completely different from one another. The summers have endless daylight, bringing out the beautiful colors of the Icelandic landscapes. In the winter the nights turn long and dark and the color fades from the landscapes; showcasing instead the beautiful contrast of white snow and black lava.

Icelandic weather is also notorious for being sporadic all year round; some days you'll even witness all four seasons in a single day. In this guide on Icelandic weather, we'll answer any and all questions you may have, so follow along carefully.

The Climate in Iceland

The climate of Iceland is a mixture of tundra and subarctic conditions. The island is situated just south of the Arctic Circle, however, its climate is much milder than could be expected for its latitude and location. In fact, these mild temperatures are thanks to the Irminger Current, which is a branch of the North Atlantic Current, a warm current of water that travels north-west from the Carribean to Iceland. 

In general, the weather in Iceland stays relatively constant all year round. There are cool summers and cool winters, but extreme temperatures are quite rare. The biggest variation in temperature is between the coastal areas and the highlands of Iceland. In the winter the average temperature is around 0 °C (32 °F) at the coast and −10 °C (14 °F) in the highlands. In the summer, both the coast and highlands experience average temperatures of around 10–13 °C (50–55 °F). 

However, extremes can of course occur. In 1918, Iceland experienced what was called the ‘Great Frost Winter,’ where a temperature of -38°C was recorded. The hottest temperature on record occurred in 1939 when the temperature reached 30.5°C. These extreme temperature events occur very rarely in Iceland, and generally, the temperature is quite constant with little fluctuations. 

Seasons in Iceland

Ask any Icelander and he'll tell you that Iceland technically only has two seasons, Winter and Summer. However, it does experience four distinctive seasons. Spring and Autumn are very short and can sometimes feel almost rushed.

Each season has its pros and cons, and in reality, there is no best season; it all depends on the type of experience you’re after!

Winter

The Icelandic winter starts in October and ends in April, making it the longest season. Winter in Iceland is dark, and some months like December only see four to five hours of daylight. The darkness allows for a spectacular show of the dancing Northern Lights in the night sky. It’s also the season of beautiful snowy mountains, frozen waterfalls, and blue ice caves.  

The Most Popular Winter Activities: Ice Cave ToursGlacier Hiking, Super Jeep Tours, Northern Lights.

Spring

Spring in Iceland is very short and really only occurs in the months of April and May. It’s the season when the winter's snow begins to melt and flowers start to emerge. The snowmelt often creates large floods in the highlands, making some areas inaccessible for hiking or even driving. Spring in Iceland is still low-season, making it a great time to visit for anyone looking to dodge the growing tourist crowds. 

The Most Popular Spring Activities: Snorkeling, Horseback Riding, Glacier Hiking, Reykjavik Walking Tour, Food & Drink Tours, Helicopter Tours

Summer

Summer in Iceland lasts from June to August, and it’s the most popular time for tourists to visit. This is the season of the Midnight Sun; the average daylight hours in June are nearly 21 hours! It’s also the most pleasant season in terms of the weather conditions, as the summer experiences the least amount of wind and precipitation.

In the summer the landscapes explode with color and many hiking trails that were blocked from the winter's snowfall finally become accessible. 

The Most Popular Summer Activities: Whale Watching, Hiking, River Rafting, Bird Watching, Snorkeling, Reykjavik Walking TourFood & Drink Tours, Helicopter Tours, Kayaking, Horseback Riding

Autumn

Just like Spring, Autumn is a short season in Iceland lasting from September to October. Autumn is the stormiest month of the year as the wind and rain begin to pick up. It’s the season when beautiful autumn colors start to emerge, berries become ripe and ready to pick, and the sheep are brought in from the fields. Autumn is also the start of the Northern Lights season in Iceland as the nights swiftly become darker day by day.

The Most Popular Autumn Activities: SnorkelingReykjavik Walking TourFood & Drink Tours, Helicopter ToursNorthern Lights, Horseback Riding

The Weather in Iceland: Month by Month

January in Iceland

January is on average the coldest month in Iceland. In Reykjavik, the temperature ranges between -3°C and 2°C (26.6°F and 35.4°F), and in the highlands between -6°C to 1°C (21.2°F to 33.8°F). January is not only the coldest but also the windiest month in Iceland with an average wind speed of 26km/h (16.1 mph). Strong gusts of freezing arctic winds are to be expected and can quickly become uncomfortable without windproof clothing. 

If you’re traveling to Iceland in January then you can expect very wet conditions. There are, on average, 13 days in January that experience precipitation in Iceland, usually in the forms of snow or hail, but also occasionally rain. January is also the second darkest month in Iceland, with only 5 hours and 41 minutes of daylight a day on average. 

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: -6°C to 2°C (21.2°F to 35.6°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 26km/h (16.1 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 5 hours and 41 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 75.6mm (2.9 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 13.3

February in Iceland

Although February is still relatively cold, the days start to get much longer with an average of 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight. Temperatures throughout February range between -2.1°C and 2.8°C (28.2°F and 37°F) in Reykjavik and around -4.7°C to 2.8°C (23.5°F to 37°F) in the highlands and countryside. 

Conditions in February are still wet and windy, with an average wind speed of 25km/h. Precipitation still usually comes down in the form of snow and hail, with the occasional rain shower. February is a beautiful month to visit Iceland as the days are longer and the landscapes are usually covered in snow.

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: -3°C to 3°C (26.6°F to 37.4°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 25km/h (15.5 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 8 hours and 41 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 71.8mm (2.8 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 12.5

March in Iceland

Although in other parts of the northern hemisphere March is considered the gradual start of spring, it’s still considered part of the long winter in Iceland. The temperature doesn’t differ much from January and February, with an average temperature between -2°C and 3.2°C (28.4°F and 37.8°F) in Reykjavik and -4.2°C to 3.2°C  (24.4°F to 37.8°F) in the highlands.

March is the second wettest month of the year in Iceland after October. On average, there are 14.4 days of precipitation in the form of snow but mostly rain. Although March is slightly wetter than January and February, the wind speeds begin to slow down with wind speeds ranging around 22.6km/h (14mph). There is also significantly more daylight than in previous winter months at 11 hours and 57 minutes of daylight on average.

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: -2°C to 3.5°C (28.4°F to 38.3°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 22.6km/h (14 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 11 hours and 57 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 81.8mm (3.2 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 14.4

April in Iceland

April is the start of spring in Iceland and the short transition between winter and summer. It’s the first month where temperatures don’t go below freezing point in Reykjavik and average around 0-3°C (32 - 37.4°F). In the highlands and countryside of Iceland, temperatures can still dip below zero to a minimum of about -1.5°C (29.3°F).

April is also when the bright nights begin, most Northern Lights tours only operate until mid-April as the dark nights become shorter and shorter. There is an average of 15 hours and 21 minutes of daylight in April. Wind speeds also slow down and the warmer temperatures mean the snow and ice of the winter begins to melt, causing many areas of the country to become flooded. 

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: 0°C to 4°C (32°F to 39.2°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 20km/h (12.4 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 15 hours and 21 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 58.3mm (2.3 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 12.2

May in Iceland

May is considered the first month of summer, where the temperatures tend not to go below zero anymore. The average temperature varies between 2°C and 9°C (35.6°F and 48.2°F). However, the weather in Iceland is always unpredictable. For example, in 2018 there was snow until mid-May. That being said, statistically speaking, this is the driest month of the entire year in Iceland with only 9.8 days of precipitation.

May is also when the wind speeds significantly drop from 20km/h (12.4 mph) in April down to 13.6 km/h (8.4 mph) in May. It’s also the time of long nights, as the third brightest month in the year there is an average of 18 hours and 38 minutes of daylight every day. All in all, May is full of surprises and no one really knows how the weather will turn - some days you’ll experience all seasons within just a few hours!

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: 4°C to 9°C (39.2°F to 48.2°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 13.6km/h (8.4 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 18 hours and 38 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 43.8mm (1.72 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 9.8

June in Iceland

June is the third warmest month where temperatures vary between 7°C to 13°C (48.2°F to 55.8°F) and the wind speeds drop to 13km/h (8 mph). It’s also the month of the summer solstice, the longest day in the year, and the average daylight in June is 20 hours and 51 minutes (23 hours in Akureyri). 

All of these favorable conditions make June the start of peak tourist season in Iceland as people flock over to experience the endless nights. However, even the months of endless daylight experience rain. June receives an average of 10 days of precipitation, mostly in the form of rain.  

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: 7°C to 13°C (44.6°F to 55.4°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 13.6km/h (8.4 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 20 hours and 51 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 50mm (1.9 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 10.7

July in Iceland

July is the warmest month in Iceland with an average temperature of 8°C to 14°C (46.4°F to 57.2°F). Some years the temperature can climb up to 18 to 20°C (64.4°F to 68°F). It’s also the second driest month, experiencing 10 days of precipitation, as well as the least windy month in Iceland. 

July is also the first month when the days begin to get shorter at a rate of around 3 to 6 minutes a day. With an average of 19 hours and 47 minutes of daylight, it’s still the second brightest month of the year.  

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: 8°C to 14°C (46.4°F to 57.2°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 13km/h (8 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 19 hours and 47 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 51.8mm (2.0 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 10

August in Iceland

August has very similar conditions to July, and there’s only a slight drop in the average temperature to 7°C to 13°C (44.6°F to 55.4°F). It’s the wettest summer month with 11.7 days of precipitation. Wind speeds also slowly begin to pick up to 13.6km/h (8.4 mph). All this being said, it’s still a brilliant month to visit as the precipitation and wind speeds are still much lower in comparison to the winter months.  

The nights in August begin to get longer with the average daylight dropping to 16 hours and 38 minutes. However, it’s still not quite dark enough to experience the Northern Lights in Iceland. August has become the most popular month of the year for tourists visiting Iceland, with the international visitor numbers peaking this month.

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: 7°C to 13°C (44.6°F to 55.4°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 13.6km/h (8.4 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 16 hours and 38 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 61.8mm (2.4 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 11.7

September in Iceland

September is the start of Autumn in Iceland. It’s a pleasant month to visit as the temperatures, 5°C and 10°C (41°F and 50°F), aren’t much lower than in June. The number of rainy days begins to increase to 12.4 days and wind speeds average at 17km/h (10.5 mph). In Iceland, September is the time where everyone prepares for winter. You’ll find sheep gathering events happening around the island, as well as berry and mushroom picking activities popup - which are especially popular with the locals.

September, especially the latter half of the month, is also the first time after the summer where you can spot the Northern Lights. The average daylight is 13 hours and 16 minutes; allowing for total darkness to occur. 

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: 5°C to 10°C (41°F to 50°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 17km/h (10.5 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 13 hours and 16 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 66.5mm (2.6 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 11.7

October in Iceland

October is the wettest month of the year in Iceland, with 14.5 days of precipitation on average. It’s one of the stormiest months of the year here, with strong winds and heavy rain happening frequently. October is also the first month where the temperature will begin to dip below freezing point and the first snow may appear, especially in the highlands. The average temperature for October ranges between -0.5°C and 6°C (31.1°F and 42.8°F).

The days become shorter and the night's longer with the average daylight hours sinking to 9 hours and 53 minutes per day. It’s one of the quietest months in Iceland as not many tourists visit the island during this period; making it one of the best months for road tripping and exploring the various geothermal baths and pools. 

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: -0.5°C to 6°C (31.1°F to 42.8°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 17.6km/h (10.9 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 9 hours and 53 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 85.6mm (3.37 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 14.5

November in Iceland

November in Iceland is the first month of winter and temperatures are often below freezing point at -3.5°C to 3°C (25.7°F to 37.4°F). Things will start to feel Christmasy as the decorations start to be put up around the country. The sun begins to make an appearance around 10 in the morning but goes down again at 4 in the afternoon, providing on average 6 hours and 36 minutes of daylight hours.

Snow will most likely appear across the north of the country, however, Reykjavik and southern parts of Iceland might not see snow until later in November or even in December. November is a wet month with 12.5 days of precipitation, usually in the form of snow or sleet. It’s also the month when ice caving tours begin, people start going skiing, and the Northern Lights becomes a frequent occurrence throughout the long nights.  

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: -3.5°C to 3°C (25.7°F to 37.4°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 22km/h (13.7 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 6 hours and 36 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 72.5mm (2.8 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 12.5

December in Iceland

December is the month of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The average daylight duration is a short 4 hours and 28 minutes (only 3 hours in Akureyri, North Iceland). Although that might sound off-putting, December is an extremely cozy month in Iceland when the Christmas lights are on display in the streets, cafés, and restaurants. 

The temperature is usually below freezing point and the average varies between -5°C and 2°C (23°F and 35.6°F). It’s also another wet month with 13.9 days of precipitation on average. Wind speeds pick up and December is actually the second windiest month in Iceland with average speeds of 25km/h (15.5mph).

  • Average Temperature Countrywide: -5°C to 2°C (23°F to 35.6°F) 
  • Average Wind Speed: 25km/h (15.5 mph)
  • Average Daylight Hours: 4 hours and 28 minutes
  • Average Rainfall: 78.7mm (3 inches)
  • Days with Precipitation: 13.9

The Climate of Different Regions in Iceland

Although Iceland is a fairly small island, different regions have slightly different climates. The northern coastal parts of Iceland are generally cooler but they also receive a lot less precipitation than the south. Northern Iceland also experiences fewer hours of daylight than the southern areas. The southern coastal parts of Iceland are usually slightly milder and therefore receive less snow in the winters than in the north. However, overall precipitation is much higher in the south than in the north.

The Highlands, which are the mountainous area in the center of Iceland, are the coldest parts of Iceland. In the winter, the average temperature of the highlands is around −10 °C (14 °F), whereas in the coastal areas the average temperature is closer to 0 °C (32 °F). The ground and soil in the Highland areas are frozen for eight months each year and many parts of this region are only accessible for the three summer months in the year (June to August).

Wind Speed & Storms in Iceland

The weather in Iceland is always changing and can often be quite unpredictable. Many parts of the country frequently experience strong winds and heavy precipitation, especially during the winter months. The number of storms that occur is highest from September to March. 

Windspeeds are generally stronger in the highlands than in the lowland areas. For example, when wind speeds surpass 65 km/h (18 meters per second or 40 miles per hour) then it’s considered a storm.

In the highlands, wind speeds reach 18 m/s (40 mph) on 50 days a year. In the lowlands, the number of days with these wind speeds is only 10 to 20 days a year. These strong winds can be extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous - so make sure you’re well prepared if a storm is forecasted.

Thunderstorms in Iceland are very rare and the island usually only experiences less than five thunderstorms a year. Thunderstorms usually occur in southern Iceland in the late or early summer. Other types of storms in Iceland are dust storms or ash storms; these occur when strong winds pick up ash or dry earth. These types of storms can cause quite some damage to cars by scratching the paint or windows and even accumulating in the engines. If you want to learn more about this you can read our post on sand and ash protection for your car in Iceland.

Weather Forecast in Iceland

The biggest challenge with Iceland weather is its unpredictability. The weather is constantly changing and so long-term weather forecasts in Iceland are never very accurate. Therefore, don’t bother checking the weather weeks before you’re set to travel to Iceland.

If you want a more accurate weather forecast then check a maximum of five days in advance. However, most precise predictions are the two-day forecasts. If you’re planning a specific tour or trip then make sure to check the weather regularly to avoid any storms or other unpleasant weather events. 

The best and most accurate weather predictions are from the official Icelandic Met Office website. On their website, you can check the wind, precipitation and temperature forecast on an hourly basis. Their website is also a useful tool in case of the event of an earthquake or volcano eruption. 

Other useful websites that we recommend keeping open on your phone browser are the SafeTravel Iceland and Road.is websites. These sites give alerts and warnings for any weather, road or other incidents occurring in Iceland. If you’re renting your own car then make sure to check these sites regularly to avoid any dangerous road conditions or major travel disruptors.

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