The Netherlands, with its long coastline on the North Sea, has a temperate maritime climate. This means mild winters, cool summers and much more rain than its inhabitants would like. There are, of course, magnificent snowy days in the winter and great days for the beach and barbecues in the summer, just not enough of them.
During the last three decades of the twentieth century the average temperature during December was 4°C. The last very cold December days of that century were in 1995, when the average temperature was -0.9°C. Even January is no longer the ‘month of ice’ it used to be. According to the Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI), only the occasional January has been really cold – notably in 1996 and 1997, when the Elfstedentocht was last held in the Netherlands. This is an eleven-town ice-skating marathon that only takes place when all the lakes and canals in Friesland freeze solidly enough to support thousands of skaters and spectators.
This gradual warming of Dutch winters over the course of the twentieth century is attributed to the uncommon strength of the western winds. These allow the warm sea temperature (7°C) to influence the winter temperature, resulting in rainy winters instead of snowy ones. Gales are frequent on the coast, particularly in autumn and winter.
The flat countryside makes the Netherlands a rather windy place at all times of the year. This is why, starting in the Middle Ages, the Dutch built so many windmills to pump water from the low-lying areas and reclaim land from the sea and the rivers.
And the summers? The average temperature for July tends to be 17.4°C, but summer weather is extremely changeable. Warm and dry one year, cool and wet the next. Or warm and dry this week with temperatures from 22°C to 26°C, and suddenly cool and wet the next, with the thermometer barely topping 16°C.
The result of this is that the Dutch are pretty obsessed with the weather. Whenever the sun comes out, they go out. Leisure activities tend to be planned – and changed – around the weather, with museum visits suddenly dropped in favour of bicycling trips, and vice versa. When people come back from a holiday, the first thing friends and colleagues ask is not if they had a good time, but if they had good weather.