Perfect thunderstorm over Paris

Climate and weather in France

About - A thematic guide to France

A perfect thunderstorm builds up over Paris on a hot summer's afternoon
All photos

Atlantic, continental or Mediterranean, the French climate is remarkably diverse. This short guide outlines the normal climatic factors in different parts of France, and traditional French weather patterns

Other holiday planning pages....

Prepare your holiday in France, decide when and where to go, what to take with you, where to stay and how to get there.

►► Site guide
Full site index
►► Principal chapters on :
Planning a trip to France 
Information on things to do before starting your trip to France.
Where to stay in France 
the various options, including hotels, hostels, gites and camping
The regions of France
Beyond Paris, a guide to the French regions and their tourist attractions.
Guide to Paris
Make the most of your trip to Paris; Information on attractions, Paris hotels, transport,  and lots more. 
Tourism in France
The main tourist attractions and places to visit in France - historic monuments, art galleries, seasides, Alpine ski resorts, and more
Driving in France 
Tips and useful information on driving in and through France - motorways, tolls, where to stay.... 
Maps of France
Cities, towns, departments, regions, climate, wine areas and other themes.
The French way of life 
A mine of information about life and living in France, including working in France, living in France, food and eating, education, shopping.
A-Z dictionary of France
Encyclopedic dictionary of modern France - key figures, institutions, acronyms, culture, icons, etc.
►► other sample pages :
A selection of other pages
Guide to French wines
Food & eating in France
France by train
Flights to France
Car ferries to France
Driving south from Calais
Wild France - France's "great outdoors"
Moving to France
Shopping in France
Schools & education in France
Studying & learning French in France
Opening and closing
Doctors and emergencies
The French press - daily newspapers

Baie des anges
Storm brewing over Nice

Click here for maps of France, including a sunshine map

France and its many climates

2014 - a year to remember...
2014 started remarkably mildly in France. January and February were on average 2 C above normal, and in March, many places had several days with daytime temperatures peaking at well over 20 - something that normally happens only on the Mediterranean coast.
  But if residents and tourists were hoping for a long hot sunny summer, they were in for a major disappointment. Everything went well until late June: indeed, early June saw a couple of days with record temperatures, over 40C in some parts. But in July the French climate went pear-shaped.
   July 2014 was the wettest July ever recorded in many parts of France, notably the east and the south. Many cities, including Strasbourg, Saint Etienne and Avignon, had more than twice their normal July rainfall - with some places recording over three times the July average.  There was major flooding in the Basque country of southwest France, and many areas, usually scorched and parched by the end of July, remained as green as Normandy. Several weather stations recorded all-time record rainfall for a month of July, with previous records sometimes beaten by up to 20%.
   While occasional hot days helped keep the seasonal average temperature near to normal, many parts, notably in the Alps and Massif Central, had a major shortfall of sunshine and had days that felt more like March than like July.
   August was more or less normal in most of France; but it was followed by record warm months in September and October.  Many parts of southern France recorded daily highs in the mid to high twenties right through to the beginning of November, and November was mostly mild throughout France. However, the mild Autumn came at the expense of a series of monsoon-like deluges over southern coastal areas, notably the Cevennes hills, as warm damp winds off the Mediterranean made landfall. Some villages in Languedoc were flooded out two or three times in the space of a few weeks, and several lives were lost in flash floods.

     Bordered by four seas (the North Sea, the Channel, the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean), by three mountain ranges (the Alps, the Jura and the Pyrenees), and the edge of the central European lowlands, France is a country with very diverse climatic conditions, resulting in very different weather patterns. When visiting France, it is often usful to consult the weather forecast! The variety of France's weather patterns is further complicated by ongoing climate change and global warming, which in recent years have lead to a surprising number of unexpected and extreme weather conditions.
Like many places on Earth, France has weather conditions that are strongly influenced by barometric pressure: low pressure tends to leave France open to the influence of the Atlantic airstream, bringing with it clouds and rain; but when a ridge of high pressure builds up over the heart of western Europe, a large part of France, sometimes even the whole country, can be protected from the prevailing westerlies under a vast covering of dry air, often accompanied by winds from the east.
France climate zonesIn short, the weather in France is determined by the balance of power between oceanic weather systems from the west, and continental anticyclones from the east. It is the differing relative influence of these systems that determine the two main climate zones of France, and within these two zones the different sub-zones.
These zones can bee seen in the map on the left. In the western and north-western half of France, stretching from the Belgian border to the Pyrenees, the climate is generally oceanic, In Atlantic and northern regions, the influence of Atlantic weather systems is predominant;but further south and east, the influence of Atlantic weather systems diminishes.
In practical terms, this means that these western areas of France benefit from a mild climate, with moderate rainfall possible at all times of the year. The "oceanic" area, and notably Brittany, jutting out into the Atlantic, has a particularly mild climate, but can be quite rainy even in summer months - though this is not always the case by any means. The semi-oceanic area, also called the intermediate area, has less rainfall particularly in summer, as it is more often under the influence of continental high-pressure systems. This band includes the great cereal growing regions of France, Champagne, the Beauce (south of Paris) and the Midi Pyrenees region, round Toulouse.
The eastern side of France has a more continental climate, Apart from the mountain areas, it is generally drier than western France, with winters that are colder and summers that are hotter, for a given latitude, The south coast of France benefits from a continental climate moderated by the influence of the Mediteranean, generally drier than the rest of France, and without the cold winters of the rest of the continental climate zone.
The climate of eastern and south-eastern France is particularly influenced by three famous winds, la Bise, le Mistral and le Tramontain. La Bise is the dry east wind that can blow over from central Europe; in winter it can be bitterly cold, in summer blisteringly hot. Blocked over France by the Atlantic weather systems and by the Massif Central mountains, la Bise is forced south and notably channeled down the Rhone valley towards Provence, where it becomes le Mistral. Le Mistral is thus a dry wind that can blow over central Provence for weeks on end, and in winter can be surprisingly cold. The wind that skirts round the Massif Central or blows over the top of it towards the Mediterranean is known as Le Tramontain.
The microclimate of the Riviera: the extreme southeast of France, the area around Cannes, Nice and Monaco, benefits from its own microclimate; protected from the Mistral by the mass of the Alps, the climate on this narrow coastal plain is pure Mediterranean, with mild winters and warm summers.

Mammatus storm clouds gathering over central southern France The mountain areas of France; like all mountain areas, France's mountain areas have a cooler climate than surrounding areas, with more precipitation. Since the wet winds in France are those that come from the west or to a lesser extent from the south, it is the southern and western sides of the mountain ranges that are wetter. This is particularly the case with the Massif Central, whose eastern half is drier. The Cevennes mountains, the south eastern part of the Massif Central, are generally quit dry, but can receive deluges of heavy rain if wet air moves up from the Mediterranean, which happens most often in the Spring or Autumn.
Thunder cloud, Massif CentralDuring summer, the upland areas of central southern France are generally warm and sunny, but dramatic skies can brew up on sultry summer afternoons, often developing into short but spectacular thunder storms.

In the Pyrenees, it is the French side of this range, i.e the north eastern side, that is wetter than the Spanish side. This is because moist oceanic air is pulled through southwest France from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. In all the mountain areas of France, thunderstorms are a common feature in summer.

Moving Boundaries:
With the exception of the areas of mountain climate, which are determined largely by altitude and topography, the borderlines betwen the different climate zones of France are variable, and will move north and south, east and west, depending on the strength of conflicting weather systems. It is quite possible for the whole of France to come under the influence of the prevailing Atlantic westerlies, with their clouds and showers; conversely, though less often, the whole of France can be dominated by continental air masses, leaving hardly a cloud in the sky over the whole country.

2014 has started remarkably mildly in France. January and February were on average 2 C above normal, and in March, many places had several days with daytime temperatures peaking at well over 20 - something that normally happens only on the Mediterranean coast.

Something is definitely happening to the climate; and the weather in France is reflecting the abnormalities that are affecting climate patterns worldwide.
   2010 was remarkable for snowfalls in May and then again in December. 2011brought its surprises - not always very good surprises.   Winter was really quite mild, with little snow falling in most parts of France, after the heavy snows of December 2010. Then Spring came early, very early in some parts, with mild and warm days setting in from early March in many regions. By the start of April, large parts of southern France were enjoying wall-to-wall sunshine with daytime temperatures up in the mid to high 20s. This marvellous spring weather continued - apart from a short dip in the middle of May - right through to early June. By then much of southwest France was reporting a rainfall deficit of up to 60% compared to seasonal averages, and the harvest of hay in the southern half of France was down by an equivalent measure, causing a crisis for livestock farmers throughout the area.
     Then the pendulum swung the other way, and during July most of France experienced cool cloudy weather with rain, thunderstorms and temperatures well below the seasonal average. Some regions recorded an average July temperature between 6 and 8 lower than average for the month - a remarkable variation.
    However, after the unusually damp July, the rest of 2011 was remarkably dry and warm throughout France. Incredibly, the average temperature in September 2011 was higher than the average temperature for July  – an unprecedented  climatic blip – and the average temperature for November was a full three degrees higher than the normal for the month - and the warmest November since records began.
   Fortunately some snow fell in mid December on most of the mountain ranges, but on lower slopes it soon melted again.
    2012 was marked by an exceptionally could spell in mid February, lasting two weeks, that affected almost the whole country. For several days, virtually the whole of France lay under snow, and temperatures fell to below -10C in much of southwest France, and considerably colder in more traditionally cold areas. In Paris, the lakes in the Bois de Boulogne froze solid, enough for people to walk on the ice (strictly forbidden, of course). Then, a month later, most of southern France enjoyed over a week in March with daytime temperatures in the high twenties - more like June - though June itself was remarkably damp and cool. Not so July, when several parts of southern France recorded afternoon temperatures over 40C, with 43 being recorded in the middle of Clermont Ferrand at the hottest moment...

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