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In the Volcano’s Path

The village of Vík (Vík í Mýrdal in full) is the southernmost village in Iceland. It lies on the main ring road around the island, approximately 180 km (110 mi) southeast of Reykjavík.

Despite its small size (291 inhabitants as of January 2011) it is the largest settlement for some 70 km (43 mi) around. Additionally, it is an important service center for visitors to the coastal strip between Skógar and the west edge of the Mýrdalssandur glacial outwash plain.

Vík lies directly south of the Katla volcano. This volcano has not erupted since 1918, and volcanologists have speculated that an eruption may occur soon. If that occurs, Katla could melt enough ice to trigger an enormous flash flood.

Such a flood could be large enough to obliterate the entire town. Hence, the town’s citizens routinely practice drills for what to do in case of an eruption. Since the town’s church rests on high ground, the people of Vík are trained to rush to the church at the first sign of an eruption.

The town provides 1,400 hotel rooms to scientists and tourists. Those who visit, however, must be briefed about Katla’s dangers.

Vík í Mýrdal is the warmest, as well as the wettest, place in Iceland. Like most of coastal Iceland, Vík í Mýrdal has a subpolar oceanic climate. However, since it lies on the windward side of the Gulf Stream, Vík í Mýrdal receives an annual rainfall of 2,250 millimetres (89 in).

Precipitation on the Mýrdalsjökull and Vatnajökull glaciers near the town can be as high as 160 inches (4,100 mm) of rainfall equivalent, which would mean at least 160 feet (49 m) of snow at those higher altitudes.

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