Iceland Mag

9 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Culture

Weather in Iceland: Come rain, shine, and stiff joints

By Sara McMahon

  • It was common belief that weather conditions on specific days gave clues as to what was to follow. For instance, if the month of Þorri (which began around the 20th of January) was calm and frosty, spring would arrive early. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

The weather in Iceland is unpredictable. One is reminded of that much-quoted saying about the box of chocolates: you never know what you are going to get. A warm and sunny day can change into its complete opposite in the blink of an eye–something that happens frequently in the highlands. So the best philosophy when travelling in Iceland is hope for the best, but dress for the worst.

 

The climate in Iceland is temperate. The warm North Atlantic currents cause the average temperatures to be higher than in most places of similar latitude. The summers are cool and the winters are relatively mild around the coastline. Rainfall is fairly consistent all year around, with the South and West coast usually being the wettest parts of the country. The North and the East usually enjoy a drier and warmer summer but a colder winter. The average temperature during the winter months in Reykjavík is 1,8 Celsius (33.8 Fahrenheit) and -8 C (17.6 F) in the highlands. The average temperature for July is 10 C (50 F).

The sixth sense
For centuries, Icelanders depended solely on farming and fishing to earn their livelihood, professions that in many ways were dependent on weather. Different methods were used to try to forecast the weather; people would observe the way animals behaved, interpret dreams and even note changes in their own bodies. According to the book Íslenskir Þjóðhættir, the first thing a farmer would do in the morning was to make the sign of the cross and then check the weather.

People considered it to be bad luck to talk badly about the sun. To this day, many Icelanders will not leave a rake with its teeth turned up because that could result in rain."

Wild and domestic animals were thought to possess a sixth sense and the ability to foresee changes in the weather. Thus people would pay close attention to their behavior in order to predict the weather. In the southern part of the country, farmers believed it would rain if European oystercatchers flocked together and tucked their beaks up against their breasts. If the birds sang exceptionally loudly at dawn, one could expect rain later that day.  On the other hand, if the oystercatchers sang loudly in the afternoon, the next day would be dry.
When rock ptarmigans would leave the mountains and moors and flock around farmhouses, one was to expect the worst.

It was common belief that weather conditions on specific days gave clues as to what was to follow. For instance, if the month of Þorri (which began around the 20th of January) was calm and frosty, spring would arrive early. If the sun was shining on Candle Mass (2nd of February), one could expect snow soon after. A dark and gloomy Good Friday would be followed by a good summer with great grass growth. Bad winter usually followed a mild autumn. A good summer was to be expected if the first days of the month Góa (the month following Þorri) were particularly bad. A red sky at dawn boded bad weather and rain, while a red sky at dusk was an omen of good weather.

 

A great summer followed a dark Good Friday. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

 

During autumn, dainty, glittering threads of frozen rain tend to form between tree branches, celanders call these threads vetrarkvíði, which can be translated as “winter-anxiety.” When a good number of vetrarkvíði are visible, the following winter will see heavy snow.  

A bit of useless trivia
People considered it to be bad luck to talk badly about the sun. To this day, many Icelanders will not leave a rake with its teeth turned up because that could result in rain. Forget about safety reasons, we just don’t want any more rain, thank you.

Rain is not always a bad omen, though. It is considered a sign of prosperity if it rains when people move houses and a sign of fertility if it rains on one’s wedding day. It was popular belief that the weather conditions on a couple’s wedding day could foretell the nature of their marriage. Stormy weather predicted a stormy relationship, calm weather meant a dull and uninspiring companionship, and bright sun augured a happy marriage.
 

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