Avalanches in Iceland

Avalanches in Iceland

Twenty years since the Súðavík and Flateyri catastrophies

Snow avalanches and landslides have caused both death and injury and done great damage to infrastructure and property in Iceland. In the twentieth century, 193 persons died, thereof 69 persons after 1974. Financial cost between 1974 and 2000 amounts to 3.3 billion IKR.

Catastrophic avalanches in the villages Súðavík (January) and Flateyri (October) 1995, which killed 34 people and caused extensive economic damage, totally changed the view regarding avalanche safety in Iceland. These avalanches made it clear that a substantial number of people in several Icelandic towns and villages live in areas where avalanche risk is unacceptable. Although extensive evacuations may be used to reduce the risk to some extent, this can only be viewed as a temporary measure. Avalanche protective measures or land use changes are necessary for a permanent solution to this problem.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office is responsible for avalanche warnings and hazard zoning and advices the government on avalanche protective measures. The office employs snow observers in the the most important villages in avalanche-prone areas and maintains a database for avalanches.

A map on a selected front page shows recent observations of avalanches as well as avalanche conditions and avalance forecast for selected areas. An avalanche map viewer is also available, aimed at easing user access to avalanche and landslide data gathered and processed at IMO.

North West
A passage has been made through snow on the road. Súðavík, Súðavíkurhlíð, in the West fjords, 7 April 2010. Photo: Þórður Sigurðsson.

South Iceland
Snjóflóð, Strútur á Suðurlandi 8. apríl 2006.
Avalanche caused by snowmobilers in Strútur, South-Iceland on March 8th 2006. Luckily nobody was injured but drivers of snowmobiles must be constantly aware of the danger of avalanches. © Steinn Árni Ásgeirsson.

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