Iceland Climate

Iceland is not as cold as it sounds. Thanks to the warm Gulf Stream that flows along the southern and western coast and the prevailing southwesterly winds from the Atlantic, the average temperature in July is 51 F (11 C) and in January 31 F (-1 C), making an average winter day in Reykjavík often times warmer than one in New York.

However, as this incoming warmth from the south combines with the cold polar seas and hits the mountains on the coastline, it forms condensation, resulting in plenty of rain on the southern and western parts of the island. Because of the Gulf Stream, these areas have milder winter temperatures and snow is rare.

In general, the further you move north and east, the chances of pleasant weather because these areas lie in the rain shadow of the ice caps in the island’s interior. The annual rainfall on Iceland’s southern coast is about 3,000 mm, whereas the highlands north of Vatnajökull receive about 400 mm. Fall and winter are the wettest seasons.

Quite Changeable

Iceland’s weather can change quickly and it can become very cold in both summer and winter when the polar winds blow. There may be sunshine, rain and snow in the same day any time of the year. July and August are the warmest months. But even then, the sky is often times cloudy and the sun doesn’t warm the air too much. There are some days in the summer, however, where temperatures reach around 77 F (25 C).

The island’s mountain peaks are covered with snow year-round. But only the northern part of the island has relatively certain skiing conditions.

Why the name Iceland?

It is not known where Iceland got its name from. However, legend has it that the first Viking, who discovered this island, wanted to keep it all to himself. So he came up with a name that wouldn’t sound inviting for future settlers. He named this rather green country “Iceland” and the ice-covered, large island to the north “Greenland” hoping that new settlers would make their home there.

The Northern Lights

A spectacular natural phenomenon occurs every year from the end of August. This is when the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, can be seen, a bright, colorful spectacle of lights on the night skies. For two months in the summer, from the end of May to the beginning of August, you can experience a fascinating midnight sun, as there is almost continuous daylight. And in early spring and late fall, there are long periods of twilight. In the winter, from mid-November to the end of January, Iceland only gets around four hours of daylight. However, the silence of the falling snow and the colorful skies make up for it.