and its many climates
- 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
days with daytime temperatures peaking at well over 20° -
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 40°C in some parts. But in July the French
climate went pear-shaped.
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%.
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
August was more or less normal in most of France;
was followed by record warm months in September and October.
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
FRENCH WEATHER CHAOS IN RECENT
is definitely happening to the climate; and the weather in France is
reflecting the abnormalities that are affecting climate patterns
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.
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
unprecedented climatic blip – and the average
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
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 -10°C in much of southwest France, and
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 40°C, with 43° being
recorded in the middle
of Clermont Ferrand at the hottest moment...
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