The Netherlands, often known as Holland, is a small country with a long coastline on the North Sea. The greater part of the country is low-lying and does not rise more than 30 m/100 ft above sea level. Substantial portions of the provinces of north and south Holland, the offshore islands in the mouth of the Scheldt, and the Waddeneilanden are near, or below, sea level. These areas have been reclaimed from the sea over the centuries. A small area in the southern province of Limburg rises above 300 m/1,000 ft. Proximity to the sea, low elevation, and the presence of numerous sluggish rivers and canals impose a uniformity on the climate of the country so there are very small differences from place to place.
The coastal regions have the mildest climate throughout the year (see the table for Vlissingen) and the lowest rainfall. In summer the slightly higher midday temperatures are more likely to produce thunderstorms accompanied by heavy showers. Climatic conditions inland are best shown by the table for De Bilt near Utrecht, which is representative of the densely populated area between Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
As in most countries in northwest Europe, the weather in the Netherlands can be very changeable from day to day at all times of the year, and the character of each season may vary from one year to another. In winter spells of cold weather, lasting from one week to two months or more, rivers and canals may freeze. In mild winters this may not occur at all. In summer, fine, hot weather may last for some weeks on occasions but the weather may also be cool and unsettled. Rainfall is well distributed over the year, but tends to fall on fewer days in summer and to be heavier. Average daily sunshine amounts range from about two hours in January to between seven and eight hours in June.
Gales are quite 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. In the past this aspect of the weather was fully utilized by the Dutch, who built numerous windmills to pump water from the low-lying land reclaimed from the sea and the rivers. On rare occasions in the past severe northerly gales have whipped up storm waves and a tidal surge in the North Sea sufficiently high to batter and breach the coastal dykes. This last flood occurred in January 1953 with disastrous consequences, inundating land below sea level and causing great loss of life.
Except during prolonged cold spells in winter the weather in the Netherlands is rarely unpleasant or uncomfortable. When it does freeze many people indulge in the traditional Dutch winter sport of skating on the numerous canals.
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