Climate barcode - record warm - record wet - the Netherlands 2023

2023: The Netherlands’ Warmest and Wettest Year on Record

2023 began in a way that perfectly foreshadowed the rest of the year. On the very first temperature measurement of the year, the Netherlands recorded an unprecedented January temperature of 15.6°C during a rainy ‘winter’ night. This was not only record-breaking for the month of January, but also 2.4°C higher than the previous New Year’s Day record set just a year earlier. As it turned out, this was merely the beginning. The year 2023 unfolded as the warmest and wettest on record, aligning with ongoing climatological trends.

The Netherland’s main weather station in De Bilt, recorded an average temperature of 11.8°C in 2023. This figure surpasses the previous highs of 11.7°C observed in both 2014 and 2020, and is well above the climatological norm of 10.6°C for the period 1991-2020.

Yearly average temperature in The Netherlands - record warm 2023

In terms of precipitation, 2023 set a new record as the wettest year in the Netherlands. The national average, calculated from 13 rain gauges across the country, reached 1153 mm. This surpasses the previous record of 1109 mm set in 1998. Notably, the rain gauge in Purmerend recorded the highest local annual rainfall with 1435 mm, breaking the 1915 record of 1387 mm in Heemstede. Meanwhile, De Bilt’s weather station marked its second wettest year, recording about 1180 mm, though still below the 1235 mm recorded in 1998.

Precipitation in The Netherland's wettest year
Precipitation figure by Jordi Huirne

Nationally, it was the wettest year on record. The national precipitation is an average measured over 13 rain gauges.

Yearly average temperature in The Netherlands - record wet 2023

The Bilt measured the 2nd rainiest year on record.

2023: A sunny year despite the rain, reflecting the ‘new climate’

In 2023, the Netherlands basked in 1913 hours of sunshine, surpassing the climatological norm of 1718 hours by a large margin. This made it the 7th sunniest year on record. The sunniest year ever was set just one year earlier, in 2022. During this exceptional year, an extraordinary 2233 hours of sunshine was recorded.

The abundance of sunshine in 2023 may seem paradoxical in such a rainy year. Yet, this combination of high temperatures, large amounts of rain, and ample sunshine aligns closely with the emerging patterns of the ‘new climate’. In the Netherlands, trends are moving towards higher temperatures, increased precipitation, and particularly more intense rainfall events. However, these are accompanied by sunnier conditions. The increased sunshine and higher temperatures also contribute to greater evaporation, which in turn can lead to drought conditions.

While intense rainfall might seem like it would counteract drought, this isn’t always the case. In situations where soils are dry, their capacity to absorb water is reduced, leading to a scenario where much of the rainfall results in runoff rather than infiltration – especially during heavy downpours. This means that, even when lots of rain fall, drought conditions can persist due to the inability of the dry soil to effectively utilize the water.

Climate barcode - record warm - record wet - the Netherlands 2023

The figure above shows the ‘climatological barcode’ of the Netherlands. Upward trends in temperature, precipitation, and sunshine can be seen. This year therefore alighns clearly with the ‘new climate’. Figure by Karin van der Wiel / KNMI, adopted from this article.

Drought in a year of abundant rain

With the current situation where soils are thoroughly saturated and rivers are swelling with extremely high water levels, it’s hard to reconcile that earlier in the year, the Netherlands faced quite the opposite challenge: droughts. During May and June, the main weather station in De Bilt recorded an unprecedentedly long period without measurable rain. For 39 consecutive days, not significant rainfall was recorded, leading to the emergence of various drought-related issues.

Moderate maximum temperatures in a record warm year

While 2023 stands as a record-warm year overall, the peak temperatures reached were not exceptionally high. The highest temperature recorded in De Bilt was 32.2°C, which is notably lower than the 37.5°C record set in 2019. This year’s high average temperature is attributed to a consistently higher ‘baseline’ temperature throughout the year. Notably, the average daily minimum temperatures this year were the highest on record, while the average daily maximum temperatures were slightly below record levels. Additionally, 2023 recorded the second-highest number of ‘warm days’—days when maximum temperatures exceeded 20.0°C—second only to the record set in 2018.

The figure above shows the average daily maximum temperature, which was just below record high levels.

Record high minimum temperature in the Netherlands

The figure above shows the average daily minimum temperature, which was record high this year in the Netherlands.

The figure above shows the yearly maximum temperature, which was far from record levels, despite the record high average temperature this year in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, extremely high maximum temperatures are becoming more frequent.

Year ends in fashion

After kicking off the year with record warmth, 2023 closed in a similar fashion. The last days of the year, especially the nights, were warm for this time of the year, staying several degrees above the usual climatological norms. On the final day, the year maintained its rainy theme with intense shower, accompanied by strong winds and even thunder, fittingly closing a chapter in the Netherlands’ meteorological history marked by both record warmth and relentless rainfall.

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