Information about sandstorms and our Sand and Ash protection (SAAP)

Sandstorms, sometimes also called ashstorms or duststorms, happen in Iceland and can cause serious damage to cars that are in the area at the time. A lot of our customers are worried about them, as they should be. Some travelers have been hit really hard, like Marie Storm who drove into a bad sandstorm in September 2013. Check out her story on Iceland Review and a photo of her car in the Icelandic newspaper, Vísir. Although Marie Storm‘s story is an extreme example, sandstorms can cause real problems and real damage to cars. So, lets take a closer look at sandstorms and what we can do to avoid ever seeing them. 

Where and when sandstorms happen in Iceland

Sandstorms usually happen during spring or fall, although they also happen during winter. They are less common in the summer because wind is on average less during summer then other seasons.

They are caused by heavy winds which blow up dry earth or ash in the area. The average wind needed to start a sandstorm is about 10 m/sec. If there has been little rain in the area and the earth is dry even less wind is needed to start a storm or as little as 7-8 m/sec. So rain is our friend when we try to avoid sandstorms. 
80% of all sand and ashstorms in Iceland during 2002-2010 started at 14 places. These places are: Landeyjarsandur, Meðalsandur, Mýrdalssandur, Leirur, Núpsvötn, Skeiðarárssandur, Holuhraun, Gljá, Rangársandur, Mýrar, Klausturfjara, Skógarsandur, Meðallandsfjörur og Höfn. Most of the storms started on Landeyjarsandur. All these places, except Holuhraun, are in the south and southeast areas of the country. 

sandstorms in iceland

Damage caused by sands or ash storms

Damage due to sand schratsches the paint on the side that faces the wind. The surface becomes matted, almost like someone has used sand paper on it. A car that has been damaged by a sand or ashstorm usually needs to get a paint job, exchange the windows and sometimes bumps need to be fixed. The damage is not very visible on photos but below is an example of damage of SADcars due to sandstorms. 

damage due to sandstorms in iceland  

How to prevent getting in to a sandstorm

I am sure by now you have realized that sandur means sand in Icelandic and that all the places that end with sandur are pretty much deserts so if you are going to be traveling through a sandur on your journey, make sure you check the forecast and road conditions! The best place to check the weather is over at the Icelandic Met office. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration has up to date information on road conditions including warnings about Blowing sand as you can see on the picture below (there were no sand warnings when this picture was taken). 

blowing sand warning Iceland

When in doubt, call 1777 for road conditions. That applies to all doubts, not just sandstorm doubts. 
You can check and Webcam site - Icelandic Road Administration for further information about road conditions in the area you are driving to. 
I also urge you to ask the locals, at your accommodation or a tourist information center, about the weather. People in Iceland usually know what the weather is going to be like in their region, especially in areas where these storms are frequent.
The Icelandic road administration has been critized in the past for only having signs in Icelandic. This problem is supposed to be fixed as early as in the summer of 2014 with signs in both Icelandic and English. Just in case, ÓFÆRT or LOKAÐ means that the road is impassable or closed. If you see either one of those words, do not drive on the road!!

What to do in a sand or ashstorm

If you are driving and get into a sandstorm it is better to drive slower if possible. I realize this might be difficult when you really want to try to get out of the storm but this might make all the difference when assessing the damage to the car later on.
If you see a possible shelter, such as a house or wall, use it. 
Honk your horn if you do not see anything in front of you, just in case there are other cars on the road that do not see you.

Unfortunately, this section of the blog will not be longer because there are not many things you can do if you get into a sandstorm (that we know of). If we are forgetting some tips here, please let us know at 

SADcars’ Sand and Ash Protection insurance (SAAP)

We at SADcars offer Sand and Ash Protection (SAAP), which covers you for damage caused by sand and ashstorms to the paint, windows, plastic, lights, wheels and chromes of the vehicle. If you have questions about the new insurance, you are welcome to contact us at You can also check out our Terms page and our Insurance for further information. 
Hopefully all this information will help you avoid getting into a sandstorm in Iceland and possibly therefore saving some money on damage costs. If you have experienced this kind of storm firsthand we would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, especially if you have tips for us or other travelers in Iceland. 
Happy (and safe) travels friends!