What to expect from the sky.

Whether you love or hate the climate in Amsterdam depends on where you come from and what you’re used to.

Amsterdam is at about 52° north latitude, same parallel as Nottingham, Berlin, Kamchatka and Saskatoon. It’s north enough that the summer days are noticably longer, and winter days shorter, than in most of the US or China for example. In fact the moment of sunrise varies by a full 4 1/2 hours across the year. My friend from Lapland won’t be impressed by that, but I came from Boston so I’m sensitive to it.

Curiously, the extremes in daylight hours do not make for extremes in temperature. Don't quote me, but I think this is because of our position near the sea and the gulf stream — and the significant masses of water flowing around and right through the city, which lend a stabilizing effect.

Amsterdam does not get very much snow nowadays. There are winter storms, and the snow might accumulate to ankle deep, then melt again over the next few days. Icy pavements can cause cyclists to wipe out sometimes.

What we do get is a lot of moisture. The cold can feel colder because it’s ‘water cold’ (waterkoud), the creepy cold that sneaks up your sleeves and down your collar. And in the autumn we get days of very strong winds, which can take out trees in the city, and cause havoc with rail service.

Indeed it can get unbearably hot or bitterly cold, for a short time. One recent winter the canals in the heart of Amsterdam froze solid for about a week, and people were excited to walk on the ice. But the world rarely stays frozen long enough to hold the big skating event known as the elfstedentocht, or eleven cities tour.

Overall the climate in Amsterdam is comparatively moderate. Which, oddly enough, means many people are vaguely dissatisfied much of the time. People who love hot summers, and people who hate hot summers, both get a share of disappointment.

Folks I know who grew up in Mexico or southern Europe tell me it’s predominantly chilly and cloudy here, and that starts to wear on their spirits after a while. That’s no surprise. But a lot of native Dutch people also tell me the weather sucks here. I’m averse to drawing stereotypes, but it does seem to me that Dutch people are inordinately fond of sunshine. Having pulled through that deep dark time, when daylight is a blink-and-you-miss-it affair, Nederlanders almost seem to feel they are owed a warm, cloudless summertime. When the sun shines, they flock to the terrassen (outdoor cafés), favoring those on the sunny side of the street. When the sky is typical Amsterdam milky-gray, it’s as if they’ve been cheated.

I'm a shade guy myself. Give me the time after sunset. Those long June evenings are one of the things I treasure most about this place. It's great to sit outside at a café table in the endless twilight, drinking beer and talking with your comrades, seeing the faint blue in the sky and wondering how it got to be eleven at night.