In February I watched with awe how the daffodils in the flowerbed outside my living room window started sprouting, growing taller and eventually they were only a sunny day away from blooming.
Ironically called páskalilja (‘Easter lilies’) in Icelandic—because daffodils rarely ever bloom in time for Easter—the unseasonably warm weather and ‘fake spring’ of February tricked the plants into believing summer was near.
But that sunny day never came. Instead, almost as soon as the third warmest February Reykjavík has ever seen turned to March, the temperature dropped below freezing point with icy winds exaggerating the frost.
Leaving my house on Monday morning I found a huge icicle hanging over my doorway. My daffodils were no longer standing proud but hanging their heads in misery.
A couple of days later and the flowers were buried in snow. Overnight about a half a meter of snow had fallen in the capital, which has almost been snow-free so far this winter, with the storm blowing up high snowdrifts and the blizzard blocking visibility.
Vorhret—a spell of bad weather after the first signs of spring—is almost a guaranteed annual event in Iceland. Few people believed spring had come for good; the weather gods are just too treacherous.
In my column in mid-February, I wrote that spring was an illusion.
In Halldór Laxness’ Independent People, spring arrives early one year with a dandelion blooming on the grassy roof of the turf farm.
Everyone but Bjartur, the main protagonist, feels certain that this is a sure sign that winter is over and that spring has arrived early.
However, as Bjartur fears, winter strikes back with a vengeance, blizzards rage well into the beginning of summer, the frost and snow keeping the grass from growing.
Forced to keep his sheep inside, Bjartur eventually runs out of hay and has to slaughter his sheep one by one, as well as the farm’s only cow.
Still today, vorhret can prove disastrous for farmers.
Although people may have anticipated the return of winter, Wednesday’s blizzard still seems to have caught them by surprise as a number of capital inhabitants ignored the snowdrifts and poor visibility and headed for work as usual.
This resulted in complete chaos on the streets, cars running into each other, getting stuck in the snow and many people waited for hours in traffic jams.
Blizzards are rare in Reykjavík, while in the north, east and west, people are more accustomed to conditions like these, perhaps being more aware than capital residents when it’s best to leave the car at home.
Hailing from Akureyri in the north, I have often treaded knee-deep snow in blizzards, looking for horses or heading for school. When wearing the proper clothing it’s fun exercise and quite refreshing.
But I have my limits.
On the few occasions snow days were declared, I was happy to creep back under the toasty covers and sleep in.
My brother, however, would sometimes struggle to get to school regardless, just to stand outside the closed doors to say that he made it when no one else could.
My uncles were worse. Being the proud owners of superjeeps, they were never more excited to drive from Reykjavík (where they lived) to visit family in the north than when all roads had been declared impassable.
It took the young daredevils two or three times longer than what it usually took to cover that distance, getting stuck several times and towing other cars out of the snow, but they always made it.
When they finally arrived at our farm Selá where the whole extended family was weather-bound, their first task was to dig a huge snow house in the backyard, with a high enough ceiling for us kids to stand upright.
They also helped dig a tunnel into the stables that were completely snowed under.
On Monday when it was so stormy that one could hardly stand up straight, I visited my aunt, who used to live at Selá and after that in Akureyri.
Complaining about the icy wind when I stepped inside, she responded she was fine with the weather as long as it didn’t snow—she had shoveled enough snow for a lifetime.
Her wish certainly wasn’t granted but I know from experience that snow hardly ever stays for long in Reykjavík. It has already started to melt.
I don’t mind the snow but would have preferred having it around Christmas. Now I’m ready for spring and my daffodils sure are—only if they survive the latest vorhret.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org