From Iceland — How Will (Or Won’t) Climate Change Affect The Weather In Iceland?

How Will (Or Won’t) Climate Change Affect The Weather In Iceland?

Published September 19, 2023

How Will (Or Won’t) Climate Change Affect The Weather In Iceland?

What’s the easiest way to distinguish an Icelander from a tourist downtown? Easy. Icelanders have long given up dressing for the weather. What’s the point? It keeps changing over the day anyway, so you might as well feel cool in a jean jacket and shake off the pneumonia with some kókómjólk. But with a global climate crisis on our hands, one does have to wonder what might be in store for Iceland in the future.

We asked Halldór Björnsson, group leader of weather and climate research at the Icelandic Met Office, how climate change might affect Icelandic weather conditions.

“It’s pretty much always the same story,” Halldór says about the general research process and data. “If you contrast the start of the century to the middle of the century, the warming is generally about 1°, plus/minus at least a half degree. It doesn’t really matter what emission scenarios you work with. Usually the way you do this is that you have an emission scenario, which is how much CO² is going to be emitted, and then you work out how much it’s going to warm. All emission scenarios are very similar until the middle of the century, then they start sort of diverging. Towards the end of the century is when it becomes really telling and meaningful: will we be able to tame this and reduce emissions or won’t we. If we are not able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – we’re talking about the entire planet here when I say ‘we’ – then the warming will continue at quite high rates.”

Apart from greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures we are also facing an increase in precipitation (all the stuff that falls from the clouds) in Iceland, some studies indicating an increase somewhere between 1 and 1.5 percent per degree of warmth.

“Precipitation in Iceland is currently rather high in terms of the average for the region. It’s about 1600mm per year,” Halldór says. “In total, most of it is on glaciers and in high mountains, but one percent change in that is actually a fairly high number. You’re not going to notice one percent change in precipitation that much, what you will notice is that precipitation will become more intense and events that used to happen every hundred years or so could happen every decade or two. If you think of massive precipitation events like the one that occurred in Seydidfjördur a few years ago, those sorts of events could become more common.”

In good-ish news for the northern volcanic rock that some of us call home, the windiness is expected to stay roughly the same. Meaning the same hellish speed and ferocity that occasionally tries to blow us to Greenland. And speaking of green, with a warmer climate, Iceland has become greener – in terms of flora – in the last decades, allowing for more tree growth and consequently more bird species making their homes here, which is likely to be permanent.

“The weather is going to be just a variable as it was, though we do expect to get more intense rain events,” Halldór says. He compares the climate of a possible future Iceland to those of the Faroe Islands or Scotland. Both locales are warmer than present day Iceland, but with equally volatile weather patterns, where you can sometimes experience pretty much every sort of weather you could think of in the span of a single day.

For the sake of the planet, it seems prudent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But here in Iceland you can keep your “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes” t-shirt.

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