A storm for the ages: Netherlands Edition

Elizabeth Helmkamp—Staff Writer 

On Jan. 18, a blizzard with record wind speeds swept across the Netherlands. Several Dordt students were studying in the Netherlands at the time, as a part of the SPICE semester. Senior Britta Provart, a Dordt student who is taking classes in Zwolle, shared her experience with the storm:

“[That day], we had a terrible wind storm. Some parts of the Netherlands had winds up to 125 kph [77 mph]! Earlier in the week they were calling for ‘code orange’ [and then ‘code red’] storms, which is supposedly very bad. My host mom told me that I needed to leave for school 20 minutes earlier than usual because it would take me so long to bike.”

During Provart’s bike ride to school, she experienced the winds at their worst.

“I tried to bike over the bridge but fell over. There were five other people on the bridge that also fell off their bikes because of the wind. Most people were walking their bikes to their destination because the wind was too strong. There were chairs and tables from outside restaurants on the sidewalks. Parked bikes had fallen over… I have never experienced winds like that! I learned that day, and other days here, that it is practically impossible to bike with strong winds. Even the locals have trouble biking when it becomes so windy!”

Martin Gelderman, a native of the Netherlands from a village called Zalk—three miles from Zwolle in the province of Overijssel—was not at home when the storm began to rage.

“I was teaching at a grammar school when the storm hit. In the neighborhood of the school there was quite a lot of damage to cars which had been hit by falling tree branches, but there was nothing [too] serious going on.”

Provart also noted the frequent sounds of trees cracking and objects being buffeted by the winds. Her host parents later told her that many people who had to drive cars to work did not have to go into work at all. There were also a few deaths in other parts of the Netherlands because of the winds.

Netherlands Europe Weather

Bicycles and a scooter overturned by heavy winds lie in a street in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Scores of flights and trains were cancelled in The Netherlands and drivers were warned to stay off the roads as the country took a powerful hit of a storm which was set to lash large parts of Europe.(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

“Semi-trucks were being blown over on the highways and big advertising signs were falling over,” said Provart. “[But] In Zwolle, the most damage was from trees falling over. To my knowledge, no one was injured.”

“My first reaction was that it surprised me,” Gelderman said. “The school is surrounded by houses so the wind was fast, but not so fast that it could blow you away. So when I saw those videos from the coast, I was quite surprised by how hard the wind actually was… when I drove home, I had to drive back a distance of 10 miles over a highway, when I got stuck in traffic after 2 miles. It took me 2,5 hours to drive the rest of the 8 miles back because the wind had blown over an empty truck. That is how hard the wind was.”

In some areas of the country, the winter storm also brought heavy snow in addition to intense winds.

“In the classroom we could see and hear the wind very well,” Gelderman said. “At a certain moment the children were not allowed to go outside anymore because of the wind, though we did not experience the wind as fast as [they did] at the coast. There are even videos on YouTube of people flying through the streets [at the coast] where the wind was much harder than inland.”

Storms like these are far from usual for winters in the Netherlands.

“Usually our winters are not that cruel,” Gelderman said. “We have snow but it is definitely not as much as in the States… We don’t really have blizzards that often. This was an extreme one. In the Netherlands we have weather codes (code yellow, orange and red), with red being the most extreme. The code we got for this storm was red. Usually we get code red about 2 times a year, so this storm was definitely out of the ordinary. It was said that this was the worst storm in the Netherlands (when it comes to how fast the wind was) since 1998.

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