Abstract Surface heat fluxes of the Adriatic Sea are estimated for the period 1998–2001 through bulk formulae with the goal to assess the uncertainties related to their estimations and to describe their interannual variability. In addition a comparison to observations is conducted. We computed the components of the sea surface heat budget by using two different operational meteorological data sets as inputs: the ECMWF operational analysis and the regional limited area model LAMBO operational forecast. Both results are consistent with previous long-term climatology and short-term analyses present in the literature. In both cases we obtained that the Adriatic Sea loses 26 W/m 2 on average, that is consistent with the assessments found in the literature. Then we conducted a comparison with observations of the radiative components of the heat budget collected on offshore platforms and one coastal station. In the case of shortwave radiation, results show a little overestimation on the annual basis. Values obtained in this case are 172 W/m 2 when using ECMWF data and 169 W/m 2 when using LAMBO data. The use of either Schiano's or Gilman's and Garrett's corrections help to get even closer values. More difficult is to assess the comparison in the case of longwave radiation, with relative errors of an order of 10–20%.