They say there is nothing quite like watching the northern lights at night time. That the shimmering streaks of green, blue, purple and red are breathtaking. That nothing on earth possibly compares to it.
During midwinter break when I was a freshman, my family and I went on a vacation to Iceland. It is not uncommon for my family to travel to exotic places during breaks from school, especially big breaks when my brothers and I are all out of school at the same time. Still, traveling to Iceland was a big deal for us. It was a very long plane ride and so many things about the country were different than what we were used to.
I was especially looking forward to the northern lights. I had heard about how amazing they were and I could not wait to witness them for myself. Leading up to the trip, I had seen a lot of pictures of northern lights. I could picture it perfectly in my mind: standing next to my family, staring up into the night sky, watching the bright, vivid colors dance across the sky. Sadly, after seeing them in person I was very disappointed. It turns out that the bright, vibrant pictures you see on postcards are actually a very rare occurrence. What I saw was a faint, dim light that you could barely see. Very unimpressive.
While the northern lights were not at all what I thought, during my time in Iceland I did witness something incredible. It was towards the end of our vacation, we had walked into town from our hotel to get dinner. Everything seemed completely normal as we walked into the restaurant. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a calm, clear, cool night. About 45 minutes later, after we had finished eating, we left the restaurant. The second we opened the door to leave, we were greeted with a massive gust of wind. The wind was so strong that it was difficult just to push the door open.
Immediately after stepping outside my family and I were greeted by the immense force of the wind. We felt our jackets flatten against our body, our faces numbing almost immediately. I have no idea what the wind speed was but it was incredible to witness. The buildings in the town funneled the wind through the streets. It was as if there was an invisible river, pushing everything along the road. Dirt, dust, old scraps of paper, anything that had been lying out in the street was now flying through the air. The gusts were so powerful that at times, it was even difficult just to walk. It was truly mind boggling. How was it possible for the wind to pick up so much over such a short time?
The street we took back to the hotel passed right by the waterfront. There was a small harbor with several dozen boats anchored in it. The road my family and I were walking on was elevated about 15 feet. On this day, the wind was so strong that it was creating massive waves. Some were so big that they almost reached the road. The spray from the waves hitting the concrete wall was blown all over the place, soaking everything. From my vantage point it even looked like there were waves forming on top of other waves.
The gusts of wind continued. One second it would seem like it was beginning to calm down and the next, an even bigger gust of wind would come rushing down the roads. My brother decided to see what it would be like to run into the wind. He began to sprint, running as fast as he possible could directly into the wind. I remember watching him, laughing as it looked almost like he was running in slow motion.
This windstorm in Iceland was easily one of the most incredible acts of nature I have ever witnessed. I had never seen anything like it before and I have not seen anything that even comes close to it since. The speed and power of the wind was almost terrifying. It was amazing to actually witness in person the two extremes of nature. First, the utter disappointment of the northern lights and second, the pure fear and exhilaration that came with the wind storm.