The Dutch Climate
A summary of the kind of weather to expect in Holland
The sheer flatness of mountainless Holland means that weather and temperatures can change quickly without warning...
Amongst themselves, the Dutch often refer to the Netherlands as their chilly old Frog-land. This evocative Dutch expression reflects the way the Dutch see their own country: cold and damp.
Holland is certainly not tropical but neither is it frozen: meteorologically speaking, the country is located in a temperate weather region with moderate temperatures. Its capital, Amsterdam, is on roughly the same line of longitude as one-time Winter Olympic venue Calgary in Canada, Warsaw in Poland and the city of Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia but unlike them, the Netherlands enjoys the warm benefits of the Gulf Stream, the global air current which draws tropical air from the Caribbean area up to the north-west of Europe. This means Amsterdam has warmer average temperatures than its longitudinal sister-cities. The prevailing southwesterly airflow is occasionally – but often rudely – interrupted by spells of colder continental air from eastern central Europe.
What to wear?
There are few extreme weather conditions in Holland but within these limits, the overall weather can only be described, rather unhelpfully, as changeable. This means that it occasionally gets rather cool in summer and conversely rather warm in winter, so even for a summer break, an ‘emergency’ sweater or two may come in handy. The winters can vary from mild to very cold indeed but temperatures below -10 C (15 F) are rare, though welcomed by the Dutch, who are keen skaters.
Visitors should also consider taking an umbrella. Most rain or snow does fall during the winter but there is always the chance of a summer shower at the coast, where most of the summer rain falls. And despite the fact that recent records indicate an increase in average temperatures and rainfall in Holland, stout shoes or boots, as well as jackets and sweaters, are recommended for any winter visitors.
Coast v inland
With the North Sea on its western and northern coasts, marine conditions play a major role and weather at the coast is often quite at odds with the weather in inland areas. Coastal areas are generally more temperate: wetter and cooler in the summer and wet but warmer in the winter. The inland areas, especially to the south, often experience the highest national temperatures in the summer and the coldest in winter. Despite the higher average inland temperatures, there are more hours of sun per year at the coast. German tourists have known this for years and traditionally head for the Dutch beaches during hot spells.
The sheer flatness of mountainless Holland means that weather and temperatures can change quickly without warning as weather rushes unhindered across the country — the successful Dutch use of windmills exploited this phenomenon. Cold fronts from inland eastern Europe can abruptly drive sun-lovers from the beach in the middle of summer while sudden cold snaps can occur in the middle of an otherwise mild winter.
In the summer, Holland has rather more than its fair share of close, clammy days; cycles that begin with a day or two of sun, gradually overwhelmed by increasing humidity as atmospheric pressure increases. The cycle ends in a predictable, often spectacular thunderstorm, which clears the air till the next cycle comes along a day or two later.
Longer-lasting storms can occur at the coast as a result of the difference in sea and land temperatures. These tend to occur all year round but peak around September. Typically, they arrive without warning from the sea, rain heavily on the land and are then repelled back to the sea by colder land air. Above the sea, they grow in intensity before returning for another downpour above land. This whole process can go on for hours at a time and provides much entertainment for storm-gazers. They also occur in June for the opposite reasons: after long periods of sun, the sea is then cool but the land warmer.
Despite all this and thanks to its extra hours of sunshine, the coast in Holland has quite a few popular resorts. Zandvoort is well known for its casinos, ex-Formula One racing track and huge hotels lining the promenades. Noordwijk also has its fair share of visiting jet-setters who enjoy the swanky hotels and lively nightlife. The whole coast is dotted with hotels and conference centres regularly frequented by political parties and corporate companies for their meetings.
The Netherlands has more to fear than most from the consequences of climate change. The Royal Dutch Weather Institute (‘KNMI’) has confirmed that temperatures are rising much faster in North West Europe than in other parts of the world. The effects can indeed be felt on a day-to-day basis, with milder winters and more rainfall.
Although the KNMI also states that this is no reason for panic just yet, the extensive use of dykes, dams and other water barriers to protect low-lying Holland is self-evidently of paramount importance. The Dutch government has consequently allocated a sizeable budget for coastal protection and barrier schemes for decades to come.