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Guide to Sandstorms in Iceland

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

sandstorm in Iceland forming by the road

Have you ever looked at the list of optional add-ons for your rental car insurance and wondered why they’re offered? Some of them seem outlandish and unnecessary, but in the case of sand and ash protection, if you’re planning to rent a car in Iceland, you might be very glad you took out this extra cover. Here’s why, as part of our guide to sandstorms in Iceland.

What are these sandstorms?

When we talk about sandstorms in Iceland, we should really be talking about dust and ash as well. Contrary to what you might expect, such storms aren’t solely associated with volcanic eruptions. Think about it: once a volcano has finished spewing its guts up into the atmosphere, in time, thanks to gravity, all that ash and other volcanic material has got to come back down again. It lands wherever the wind takes it and unless you go off-roading, something that’s not permitted in Iceland, you might think it’s not going to affect you. After all, road maintenance crews aren’t going to leave it all over the road, are they?

But you have to factor in vegetation and wind as well. Vegetation is going to hold the sand, ash and dust in place, binding it together. Wind’s going to do the exact opposite, sending it airborne again. Carried by the wind, such material, even if it’s small, has an abrasive effect. Painted surfaces, like those on your shiny new rental car, are no match. Neither is glass. So if you want to avoid sand damage, that’s going to be tricky in a place like Iceland where windy weather is all too common. And that’s where the sand and ash protection insurance comes in. After all, paying your rental company for a costly paint job isn’t going to be the greatest end to a holiday you’ve ever had.

When do sandstorms occur in Iceland?

Let’s go back to the topic of vegetation for a moment. The roots of vegetation, even moss and grass, help to bind loose soil and other material together and anchor it to the ground. To grow, they need moisture and relatively warm temperatures. In Iceland, the growing season extends from late spring to early autumn. If you’re trying to time your visit to Iceland for when sandstorms are least likely to occur, then you’d better make that a summer trip. Vegetation’s likely to be at its greatest and the risk of sand damage is statistically at its lowest.

sandstorm in Iceland ahead of the road

In winter, however, snow and ice often cover the surface and trap that loose ash and sand underneath out of harm’s way. Conversely, travel in February, March, or April and as the snow melts, the ground beneath is exposed to the elements. The vegetation hasn’t yet had time to grow back, and your vehicle is going to be vulnerable should the wind pick up. But remember, the weather in Iceland is notoriously fickle. Do you really want to be reliant on getting the right kind of weather and be a slave to the weather forecasts before hitting the road? Of course, you don’t.

Is there a part of Iceland that’s a worse risk than others?

In short, yes. Driving through the lava fields and black sand of the south and east of Iceland comes with a higher risk. Many visitors to Iceland opt to tour the south coast, where volcanic ash and sand can be a hazard. If you’re planning to drive on the rugged F roads, then it’s quite likely the wheels will kick up some of the road surface. (Note that gravel insurance is a different thing, though you’re likely to need that too if you’re heading into the interior.) Both these areas come with an increased chance of damage to your vehicle, whether it's a 4x4 camper or not, making the sand and ash insurance an advisable if not an essential part of your package.

How common are sandstorms in Iceland?

That’s a difficult question to answer, as there are so many factors that can come into play. But when you consider the basics – the amount of loose material lying by the roadside and the likelihood of encountering strong gusty winds – then you could say sandstorms are a relatively common occurrence. They’re more common in some parts of the country than others and during some months of the year.

In terms of securing a sandstorm forecast for Iceland, look at how dry it’s been and is going to be, and also what the wind has and will be like. The drier and windier it is, the more the risk of a sandstorm. Remember, what conditions have been like in the run-up to your trip is just as important as what they’ll be like while you’re in the country.

Sandstorm forming on the surface of a road in Iceland

The occurrence of sandstorms varies from year to year, making this a difficult question to answer accurately. In a way, taking out insurance against sand and ash damage comes down to how risk-averse you are. It’s worth contacting your camper rental in Iceland company to ask what the options are. Their advice will help you make a decision. Not all rental companies include sand and ash insurance as standard, though here at campervan Reykjavik we do – in our opinion, it would be a false economy not to. You get peace of mind – and that makes for a more relaxing holiday.


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