Tag Archives: snow

Yesterday I woke up to a white morning

It seems that the European winter is teasing me. In the end of December I’ve complained here about the lack of proper snow in our parts. And as if to show what the Dutch winter can do, yesterday morning I was surprised to wake up and see a properly white winter. The city was covered in 4-5 cm of pure, crisp, dry snow under a clear blue sky. Of course, by noon most of it was gone and what was left melted together into deadly patches of ice. But I still managed to capture the magnificent views from my balcony.


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To put things into perspective, this was a very local snow event. The map below shows the extent of snow cover in the Netherlands yesterday. Most of the country appears to be snow-covered. But the orange parts indicate a patchy snow cover of less than 1 cm, so only the green areas are really snowy (Rotterdam is in the lowest most left green patch).


Snow cover in the Netherlands on Thursday, 5th of February 2015 (source: KNMI). Numbers indicate depth of snow (in cm), 97 means less than 1 cm, 98 means broken snow cover.



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Let it snow in Europe (or not…)

Winter in Europe sounds so romantic… Snow-covered castles, jolly Christmas markets, evenings by the fireplace – all the ingredients of a Disney classic.

Winter in Europe as you imagine it would be...

Winter in Europe as you imagine it would be…

The not-so-cold truth is, that Western Europe, the destination most people associate with a European vacation and with the classic images of castles and such, has a mild oceanic climate (see map below). In plain language this means winter weather here is best described as “disgusting”.

Climate zones of Europe (from http://go.grolier.com/atlas?id=mtlr026)

Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna – in January, the coldest month, typical weather in these European capitals is just above or just below freezing. Precipitation is mostly rain, occasionally wet snow, and only accidental snow cover to give you the opportunity to make that classic photo.

This week's snowfall in my neighbourhood - pretty, isn't it?

This week’s snowfall in my neighbourhood – pretty, isn’t it?

This is what it looks like up close...

This is what it looks like up close…

Snow in Western Europe rarely stays for long. It usually starts to melt immediately as it falls, leaving you wading in ankle-deep muck. As the temperatures drop below freezing during the night, semi-molten snow and fresh rain freeze on the surface, turning the roads into an icy death-trap for pedestrians and motorists.

I wouldn't dare driving over this, I barely dare walk here.

I wouldn’t dream driving over this skating ring, I barely dare walk here.

Even in the Scandinavian capitals Oslo and Stockholm winter is by no means a guarantee of snow due to their location on the sea shores. I’m not even talking about the Southern regions of Europe – the chances of seeing snow in Rome or Barcelona are close to zero, and you will probably spend most of the winter there being cold and wet nevertheless. In many parts of Europe, winter is indeed full of snow and frostbites. Its just not the parts your are likely to visit as a tourist. Take a look at the map below, showing average January temperatures in Europe.

Europe, temperature-January (from http://go.grolier.com/atlas?id=mtlr029)

The darker areas are colder, and parts that are below -5 Celsius are likely to see permanent snow during most of the winter. Mountain areas (like Schwarzwald, shown in the first photo) will probably be snowy regardless of their location. But most of Europe to the West of the line Warsaw-Belgrade will probably be freezing cold but rather grey and very, very moist. For the Americans among you – Seattle is probably your closest weather “parallel” to North-Western Europe. I don’t mean to discourage anyone but if you plan on a snowy trip to Europe, you better be going to Zermatt or Moscow. And check out the handy charts at http://weatherspark.com/, like the ones for temperature and precipitation in Amsterdam shown below. As you can see, November to March will be either cold or freezing, and there’s a high chance of rain at some point of the day. Welcome to Europe and have a nice stay!

Fraction of Time Spent in Various Temperature Bands in Amsterdam.

Probability of Precipitation at Some Point in the Day in Amsterdam.


Filed under Europe, Travel

Dude, where’s my car?

During my PhD project I sometimes venture into the field to gather soil samples. For the sampling I am dependent on other people and their schedules (I’ll tell more about the details some other time). So far, the sampling seems to be destined to occur in the most inconvenient weather. Last time it was raining cats and dogs, and today… well, let’s say I am having difficulties finding my car. Fortunately, its a small European car, so I don’t have a lot of digging to do.

When its minus 10 outside, you’re happy to own a Twingo

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Sneeuwgel – Word of the Year 2013?

The Dutch winter sometimes can be real fun, a proper winter, like last year. Most of the time though, between December and March the weather is, how should I put it… the opposite of pleasant. Temperatures fluctuate around the zero, the moist wind is blowing through whatever you wear and some unidentified mixture is falling out of the sky instead of proper snow.

Actually, this is what I want to discuss. While the Dutch have many words for urban waterways, they have surprisingly limited vocabulary describing forms of precipitation. Which I find strange, considering the variety of stuff that falls down on you most of the year. The local weather forecast recognizes rain, snow and hail, but the rest of it is just lumped together as “wintry showers”. And while the English language is able to distinguish varieties in the wintry showers such as graupel (even though its a German word) or sleet, the Dutch language largely ignores the topic. Which is even more surprising considering how much the Dutch talk about the weather.

Every year the Word of the Year is chosen, and every year the Dutch turn the election into a popularity contest. The words that have been chosen disappear from the language almost as quickly as they’ve appeared, while the weather remains undetermined and vague. Its a situation I refuse to accept any longer. So far, the Dutch had to get around with just four words for precipitation – regen (rain), sneeuw (snow), hagel (hail) and ijzel (glaze). Here’s my contribution to the Dutch language – new words describing wintery precipitation forms.

    • Sneeuwgel – snow pellets or graupel.
    • Snegen – a mix of snow and rain
    • Snagel – a mix of snow and hail
    • Ragel – a mix of rain and hail (also occurs during summer thunderstorms)
    • Snergel – snow, rain and hail at the same time (yes, it happens too)
    • Reeuwgel – a mix of rain and sneeuwgel
    • Heeuwgel – a mix of hail and sneeuwgel
    • Sneeuwrgel – rain, hail and sneeuwgel all together (I swear you, I’ve seen it happen)

Its too late for this year, but perhaps one of these words will make it in 2013. I choose sneeuwgel. It’s my personal favourite. And this winter, it’s already here.

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Spring has arrived to Europe

There are a lot of signs that spring has arrived. Like the arrival of the swifts, for example, or the blossoming of narcissus. The melting of snow is a good measurement, if you’re blessed with snow that is. Like in Alpstein, in East Switzerland, where they get a good 2.5 meters every year. Come spring, all this snow starts to melt, cows are released onto the pastures, scouting clubs march up the hills, yodelling on their way to renew the firewood supply in mountain chalets. Its a wonderful sensation to be hiking waist deep in the snow when its 25 degrees outside.

Cycling through the bulb flowers fields with your boy/girlfriend - can't get much cornier, but still nice.

In flatter areas, cyclists are on the loose, pedalling hand in hand along the flower fields. I call it corny, but I do it all the same ‘cos its just so nice to roll along in the sun.

Flowering trees - not everybody's enjoying it

However, spring is for many people, me included, the time of sneezing and itchy eyes. The sex drive of all these trees and grasses causes major inconvenience to me and all the people I sneeze on. Funny thing is that I don’t have that outside of Europe so in some sense I am actually allergic to Europe. This year’s medicine seems to work though, so its all good.

My favourite sign of spring though is the laundry drying outside. Not only better than the tumble drier for the environment, laundry hanged out in the fresh air actually feels and smells fresher! Hurray!

Laundry in the sun = spring is here

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Filed under cycling, Small European things