The brief harsh beautiful winter of 2021 ★★★★

For a few years now, I have made it a habit, some time mid-March, to look back on the past winter, and especially on the photographic aspects of it. Unfortunately, since I started doing that, there has hardly been any real winter weather in the Netherlands.

In 2014/2015, the winter lasted only two days. In 2016/2017 I had to go to the far east of the country to take beautiful pictures. In 2017/2018 there was some cold at the beginning and the end, but the rest of the winter was grey and rainy. For the winter of 2018/2019 I could think of no other word than lousy. And in 2015/2016 and 2019/2020 not a single snowflake fell in Rotterdam, so I completely skipped reviewing those winters.

We had to go all the way back to 2012 for a winter that really kicked ass, but my blog didn’t yet exist at the time. Fortunately, the current winter has not become the next one in a disappointing series.

Snowmageddon

The first cold snap, on January 16, was somewhat disappointing. A snowmageddon was predicted with many inches of snow, but in the end there was only a thin layer of powdered sugar in Rotterdam. And the next morning it was all gone. Yet this was already more snow than we had seen all previous winter.

Brienenoord Island in Rotterdam with Brienenoord Bridge in the background, during a blizzard
Brienenoord Island (and bridge) on January 16

Polar Vertex and the Beast from the East

Meanwhile things were happening high in the atmosphere that mere mortals are unaware of. A sudden stratospheric warming event, a disruption of the Polar Vortex, the Beast from the East preparing to transport a load of cold our way.

Couple with baby car trying to cross the tramtracks on central Coolsingel boulevard in Rotterdam during a blizzard in the winter of 2021
Blizzard on Coolsingel boulevard

Blizzard

On Sunday, February 7, the time had finally come. After a night of persistent snowfall, the Netherlands were covered in a beautiful layer of snow. The promised 30 centimeters were unfortunately not achieved in Rotterdam; the snow cover remained limited to about ten centimeters except for occasional snow dunes. But still: there hasn’t been a snow layer of this thickness since the aforementioned 2012. After bravely challenging the blizzard at first, the trams of the RET gave up in the course of the morning. I myself spent hours walking through the city with my camera to capture the unique conditions for posterity.

Hotel New York on Wilhelminapier in Rotterdam, surrounded by and covered under a layer of fresh snow in the winter of 2021
Snow at Wilhelminapier

Winter Wonder Week

I’m probably not speaking on behalf of everyone because there are also many snow haters. But I did feel that the winter wonder week of February 2021 came as a very welcome surprise to many of us Dutch after months of lockdowns, curfews and other bad news. Finally something to look forward to, to enjoy, to celebrate. We could really use it.

Composition with cranes and other historic harbour objects at the maritime outdoor museum at Leuvehaven harbour in Rotterdam, all covered with a fresh layer of snow
Wintery ballet of cranes at the Maritime Museum

Corona proof

The government urgently advised everyone to only have snowball fights within their own families or with one other person. But a snowball fight seems to me by definition a covid-proof activity, because you keep a distance and it’s in the open air. And isn’t kneading snow actually a kind of hand washing? Well, of course I am not a virologist.

Snowman with a black facemask in The Park in Rotterdam during the winter of 2021
Snowman taking covid-19 serious

Crunching

The special light that shines through the curtains in the morning, the crunching sound of fresh snow under your feet, the muffled sounds between snow-covered trees, these are pleasures that become rare in a warming world. Yet another reason to take climate change serious.

The city of Rotterdam, covered with snow in the winter of 2021, reflecting in the mirror facade of the new depot of the Boymans museum
Rotterdam reflected in the Boymans museum collection depot

Sunny

Taking pictures during a snowstorm is fun, but as always the world looks even more pretty in the sunshine. Unlike previous winter attacks, the snowfall was now followed by almost a week of cold but sunny weather. The snow therefore remained for days on end, although in some places in compacted or iced form. It made walking a bit complicated in some places, but we got a lot of beauty in return.

Kruisplein square in Rotterdam, covered with compact snow and in the background the Central Station on a sunny day in the winter of 2021
Compact snow at the Central Station

Disruption

It was a week with conditions unlike any we had experienced in nearly a decade. We are apparently not used to it anymore, because the social disruption took on absurd forms. Trains did hardly run for days, schools closed after they had just been allowed to reopen, newspapers were not delivered. Okay, it was cold and there was snow, but it wasn’t that extreme, was it? How did we handle this in the old days, when there were a few weeks like this almost every year? I guess that’s progress…

Dutch winter scene in Eendrachtspolder near Rotterdam with snow, ice and reeds
Dutch winter scene in Eendrachtspolder

Skating

As soon as temperatures drop below zero in the Netherlands, traditionally the discussion about the Elfstedentocht starts. This year it was complicated by the question whether or not it is wise or even possible to organize an event with 15.000 skaters during a pandemic. Anyway, the discussion was nipped in the bud when the forecasts, which had initially predicted bitter cold for at least two weeks, suddenly announced spring weather.

After a few nights of severe frost, however, it was possible to skate in many places during the weekend of 13 and 14 February. But after I almost broke my ankles in that legendary winter of 2012 on the ice of Kralingse Plas, I had decided to give up skating and instead focus on another winter sport: photography.

The Bag Carriers house and other historic buildings reflect in the thin ice on Schie river in Schiedam, The Netherlands on a sunny day in the winter of 2021
Thin ice on the river Schie in Schiedam

Thaw

The winter lasted exactly a week; on Sunday 14 February the thaw came in from the south and a day later our country looked desolate and not very photogenic.

I’m hoping for a return of the winter, but the plume-shaped graphs, operational runs and other long-term forecasts offer little hope. Anyway, even if this was it, the winter of 2020/2021 was a good one. In review terms: four stars ★★★★. And if March brings a sequel, I’ll just write a new blog about it.

Skating on the ice on Voorstraat canal in Delft, The Netherlands on a sunny day in the winter of 2021
Skating on Voorstraat canal in Delft

Frans Blok

My work explores the border regions of photography, painting and computer visuals. With my company 3Develop I do work in commission but I use the same techniques, skills and software to make free work. I am originally an architect and I live in Rotterdam; for that reason the architecture of that city is a major (but not the only) source of inspiration. But also travel to countries like Iceland and Britain, or walks in the Netherlands, provide much material. Seeing and showing quality and beauty, that is what my work is about.

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