Published August 30, 2012
All summer long, the weather has been absurdly good, almost ominously so. According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, Reykjavík has had 836.6 hours of sunshine in May, June and July, which is a record amount of sunshine for this three-month period, the brightest quarter of the year. This is not the weather Icelanders are used to. Icelandic weather is a miserly buzzkill, giving you a few hours of sunshine one day and then following that with eighty years of sideways sleet.
I’m no meteorologist but I’m pretty sure that’s an exaggeration.
Yes, it is an exaggeration, but that is how it feels. If the Icelandic weather were a movie character, it would be the assistant vice principal in charge of ruining your fun. For kids, walking home from school has always been an education in how many different ways a human body can be made to feel cold and how many different ways clothes can get soaked. The same could be said about going to summer camp or sleeping in a tent.
Why can’t you just enjoy the good weather while it lasts?
Icelanders could if they were calm Buddhist types, living for the moment and not worrying about what tomorrow brings. However, Icelanders are predominantly Lutheran and know that while we may be happy now, we will pay later. Though most Icelanders are religious more in theory than practice, it brings a certain fatalism told for centuries: no silver lining is so bright that it does not come attached to an icy storm-cloud.
So the weather is a sign of the Apocalypse? It’s 2012 after all.
No, Icelanders do not think the world is ending, but like a dog that is used to random acts of senseless punishment, Icelanders are already whimpering in advance of the violent weather sure to come. This is a nation of weather-obsessives. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of old diaries consisting of little more than weather descriptions. For centuries we have stared at the abyss over our heads and it has blizzarded in our face.
Yeah, yeah. Icelanders obsess about the weather. It’s mentioned in every tourist guidebook ever written about Iceland.
Icelanders are not just obsessed with the weather; they also obsess about their own obsession with the weather. Sure, some merely follow the forecast and chat with friends and family about that time their basement flooded, but when most Icelanders talk about the weather, they do so with full knowledge that everyone around them is a weather-obsessive. It’s the safety valve in every situation. Someone gets angry about politics? Ask about the weather. Someone tells a detailed story about their rectal prolapse? Ask about the weather. Someone tries to mug you? Ask them if their basement flooded last year.
I thought muggings didn’t happen in Iceland.
Icelandic muggers try to get up the nerve to demand money, but end up asking about the weather instead to break the tension. Silliness aside, the weather-obsession has its roots in the soil. Until about 1900, the Icelandic nation was mainly comprised of farmers, their wives, children, and farmhands in near-enslavement, all living together in sod and turf houses that were a smelly combination of human and animal living quarters. Everyone’s livelihood depended on farming, which depended on the weather.
If I shared a house with a cow, the wind I would worry about wouldn’t be the one coming from the outside.
Be that as it may, weather is all-important to farmers and that is true this year as well. While most Icelanders have endeavoured to enjoy the sunshine, farmers have had to deal with a drought. The hay yield has been low, which is very bad for farmers who own livestock, which are most of them. And given that few farmers are well off financially to begin with, a drought is bad news. The national emergency fund, which is supposed to provide relief, does not have enough money to fully reimburse farmers for the drought damage.
Hearing that takes the shine out of the sunny weather.
Not all farmers have been negatively affected. Icelandic barley farms, commercial grain production being a new development in Icelandic agriculture, are heading for a record-breaking harvest. Global warming is altering weather patterns in Iceland like elsewhere, and sure as sleet follows rain, Icelanders will one day suffer for all those sunny days. Or that is how we have been raised to think, by a centuries-long double act of assistant vice principals in charge of ruining our fun, dour Lutherans and the killjoy weather.