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Be safe in Iceland

Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world according to the 2015 Global Peace Index. This does not mean that nothing here is out to kill you. It just isn't the people, it is nature. With time one adopt certain habits, such as checking the weather and road conditions before driving in the countryside. Tourists (and foreigners living in Iceland) regularly underestimate the weather and get themselves into trouble. I have several friends who have been in car accidents on icy roads in winter. Every year tourists die of exposure in the mountains and several more have to get rescued. Here is some information on how to be safe.

Check the weather. Icelandic people are obsessed with talking about the weather, so even if it does not safe your life, it will help to connect to the locals .
The website of the Icelandic Meteorological Office does not only have information on weather conditions, but also on dangers such as avalanches, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods. The front page displays alerts in case of acute dangers in any of these areas. They also have a Northern Lights forecast, which is nice.
The website of the Icelandic Emergency Response also gives warnings and advice on how to react in case of earthquakes, storms, eruptions etc. At the moment there is a warning of an impending M>6 earthquake, which I am excited about. The Emergency Response will also warn you of a Zombie (or any other kind of) epidemic.

Road conditions and useful information about driving in Iceland are found on the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration website. I used to check this website in winter even when going to the neighbourhood town to work when I lived in Blönduós. Even now in the middle of July some highland roads are closed due to bad weather. The map on the website will also indicate whether snow tires or 4x4 drive is required to travel on the road.

Below is a sign in Iceland that is found before any mountain pass or other areas usually met with challenging weather conditions.

The sign shows the wind direction (N=North, S=South, A=East, V=West), wind speed (in meters per second, >15=Gale, >20=Severe gale, >24=Storm, >28=DO NOT TRAVEL!) , temperature (important because it might be icy) and strength of wind gusts (in red). Wind gusts are dangerous, especially on icy roads, as the car can be suddenly pushed to the side.

Some signs that are good to know:

blind hill - it is not possible to see oncoming traffic. Drive slowly and as far right as possible and use the horn if neccessary.
paved road ends - reduce speed before the changeover to gravel
single lane bridge - the car closer to the bridge has right of way. If unsure stop and asses the situation
killersheep . Be aware that sheep on the side of the road might cross unexpectedly to join others. This is especially true beginning June, when the lambs are out with their mother before being herded to the highlands. You are liable for sheep that get hit.

One of the Icelandic Search and Rescue Organisations has created a website which every hiker should read carefully before venturing out. It has information on how to prepare for hiking, as well as services, such as leaving a travel plan and the brilliant 112 Iceland app, which I would recommend especially for single hikers.

The Icelandic Search and Rescue teams are volunteer organisations. Their members spent a lot of their free time training and even buy most of their equipment themselves. They finance their operational costs mainly by selling Christmas trees, fireworks and key chains at the end of the year. With the growing number of tourists getting themselves into trouble they are spread thin over the summer months. I encourage everyone to support them!

Phone numbers
1777 Road conditions
112 Emergency services, Police
Posted on - Categories: Iceland

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