The weather

It’s every­one’s favourite topic of con­ver­sa­tion and one of the rea­sons so many peo­ple move to France. Kate McNally takes a closer look at the weather across the Chan­nel to help you find the right area for you

Living France - - Contents -

How every­one’s favourite topic of con­ver­sa­tion can af­fect your life in France

What makes France one of the most pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tions in the world is the in­cred­i­ble diver­sity of its dif­fer­ent re­gions, each with its own dis­tinct beauty and in­ter­est. This diver­sity ex­tends to the weather, with wide changes from east to west and from north to south, plus a whole range of pe­cu­liar mi­cro­cli­mates in be­tween.

When plan­ning a move to France, it’s a good idea to un­der­stand a few ba­sics about the weather con­di­tions in the var­i­ous parts of the coun­try so you can be sure that it lives up to your hopes and, in­deed, per­haps also your needs de­pend­ing on any busi­ness plans.

FOUR PRIN­CI­PAL CLI­MATES

France has a very var­ied ge­og­ra­phy, with coast­lines skirt­ing four dif­fer­ent seas – the North Sea, the Chan­nel, the At­lantic and the Mediter­ranean. It has bor­ders along three moun­tain ranges – the Jura, the Pyrénées, and the Alps – plus a large cen­tral moun­tain­ous area (the Mas­sif Cen­tral) and low-ly­ing ar­eas to the west. Ac­cord­ingly, the weather is ex­tremely var­ied from one lo­ca­tion to an­other.

Roughly speak­ing, we can say there are four pre­dom­i­nant cli­mates in France. Draw­ing a line down the mid­dle of the coun­try from north to south, the west­ern half has a more oceanic cli­mate, while the eastern half has a more con­ti­nen­tal cli­mate. A fur­ther break­down within this in­di­cates a semi-oceanic cli­mate in the more cen­tral-west­ern ar­eas, and a semi­con­ti­nen­tal cli­mate in the cen­tral-eastern ar­eas. Then we can add into the equa­tion the Mediter­ranean cli­mate en­joyed by the south and south-east of France, and fi­nally the alpine cli­mate of the moun­tain­ous re­gions with their higher lev­els of rain and snow.

NORTH, SOUTH, EAST OR WEST…

In the north, much of the land is low-ly­ing, and the north-west­ern ar­eas in par­tic­u­lar are af­fected by weather com­ing in from the At­lantic coast. The re­sult is that when you see the weather map of north­ern France and south-eastern Eng­land, there are dis­tinct sim­i­lar­i­ties year-round be­tween the mar­itime cli­mates. Sum­mers are not that hot, win­ters are not that cold, and you can ex­pect rain at any time of the year.

The south of France en­joys a Mediter­ranean cli­mate com­ing up from the south­ern coast. In gen­eral, this means mild win­ters and hot sum­mers; how­ever it’s not al­ways plain sail­ing as the fa­mous Mis­tral wind ( see box­out) can bring cold blasts down from the north through the Rhône val­ley cor­ri­dor, while heavy storms in sum­mer can cause se­vere flood­ing.

In cen­tral and eastern France, win­ters tend to be cold as there is no warm­ing ef­fect from the sea and, in­evitably, the high-al­ti­tude ar­eas of the Jura, the Alps and the Mas­sif Cen­tral ex­pe­ri­ence long, cold and snowy win­ter weather. Due to the in­land lo­ca­tion, rain­fall is less than in many parts of the coun­try, and again much of the pre­cip­i­ta­tion is dumped dur­ing pow­er­ful thun­der­storms in sum­mer. In di­rect op­po­site cor­re­la­tion to the win­ters, sum­mers are warmer, even hot across the more south­ern parts and some­times sti­fling in the cen­tre with no cool­ing ef­fect from the sea.

The west of France, in gen­eral, has a mild cli­mate – es­pe­cially around Brit­tany – with mod­er­ate an­nual rain­fall that can oc­cur in any sea­son. In the south-west, as you might ex­pect, tem­per­a­tures are warmer than fur­ther north and there is more sun­shine; how­ever there is still a fair amount of rain, es­pe­cially around the Pyrénées where the clouds like to gather.

THAT’S THE THE­ORY…

In prac­tice, be­ware the mi­cro­cli­mates! It pays to dig a lit­tle deeper once you’ve se­lected a re­gion or dé­parte­ment in which to set­tle, es­pe­cially in the more cen­tral ar­eas, be­cause there can be some bizarre mini mi­cro­cli­mates in France: small geo­graphic pock­ets where sev­eral fac­tors, such as wind di­rec­tion and ge­o­log­i­cal re­lief or forestry, com­bine to cre­ate a mi­cro­cli­mate spe­cific to that lim­ited area.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the coastal port town of La Rochelle in Char­ente-Mar­itime, which en­joys more sun­shine dur­ing the year than some parts of the Côte d’Azur, though sum­mer tem­per­a­tures are milder. Sim­i­larly, the Cévennes is known for episodes of ex­treme down­pours ac­com­pa­nied by storms in ex­tremely lo­calised ar­eas that can go on for hours on end, some­times days. Weather ex­perts say this is caused by the cold air com­ing from the At­lantic over the moun­tain peaks meet­ing the hot, hu­mid air com­ing up from the Mediter­ranean. And then there is Mouthe in Doubs, pop­u­lar for cross­coun­try ski­ing, which is con­sid­ered to be the cold­est place in France; but ac­cord­ing to lo­cals, it’s a dry cold so as long as you wrap up warm you’ll be fine.

EX­TREME WEATHER CON­DI­TIONS

In re­cent years, ex­treme weather con­di­tions have be­come more com­mon, ar­guably due to the ef­fects of global warm­ing, although there have been many episodes of floods, ex­tremely hot sum­mers (known as la canicule), and droughts doc­u­mented through the years.

The south­ern and cen­tral re­gions, for ex­am­ple, can ex­pe­ri­ence heat­wave tem­per­a­tures in the 40s in July and Au­gust. Last sum­mer was one of the hottest in the past decade. With hot, dry sum­mers comes the risk of fires; and the yel­low water-car­ry­ing air­craft, known as canadères, can be seen fly­ing low over­head on their way to pre­vent fires spread­ing.

When it comes to ex­treme rain­fall, strangely enough it is of­ten the dé­parte­ments lin­ing the Mediter­ranean coast that get the worst of the very heavy down­pours – that is, more than 200mm of rain­fall in one day. Some south­ern ar­eas fur­ther in­land are also in­di­cated as most prone to spo­radic heavy rain, in­clud­ing Avey­ron, Lozère, Ardèche, Drôme and Vau­cluse. Of­ten, th­ese sud­den bouts of heavy rain oc­cur dur­ing the sum­mer elec­tri­cal storms.

WEATHER BULLETINS

Most main­stream television chan­nels pro­vide a na­tion­wide five-day fore­cast fol­low­ing the main midday and evening news pro­grammes. Chan­nel France 3 also of­fers a daily hour-long pro­gramme, Météo à la Carte, for those re­quir­ing more in­depth weather in­for­ma­tion. Pop­u­lar with the French pub­lic, it of­fers a holis­tic look at the weather, from how it af­fects your health to its im­pli­ca­tions on both na­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment.

France also has a ded­i­cated weather chan­nel. La Chaîne Météo, launched in 1995, broad­casts round-the-clock weather in­for­ma­tion. Bought in 2006 by Météo Con­sult, La Chaîne Météo brand is now avail­able across the range of com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­forms – tele­phone, in­ter­net ( lachaineme­teo.com), SMS.

Equally, there are nu­mer­ous in­ter­net sites ded­i­cated to weather up­dates, the most widely used and prob­a­bly most re­li­able be­ing Météo France ( me­te­ofrance. fr). This site is hosted by the na­tional me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal ser­vice and pro­vides five­day fore­casts for al­most ev­ery­where in the coun­try. Nu­mer­ous spe­cial­ist sites pro­vide mi­cro weather in­for­ma­tion rel­e­vant to tourist ac­tiv­i­ties, from how much snow is fall­ing in the ski re­sorts ( au­som­met. fr, ski­info.fr, hau­teur­deneige.com) to how

Panel text goes here the wind af­fects surf­ing con­di­tions along France’s coast­line ( surf-re­port.com, al­lo­surf. net, marine.me­teo­con­sult.fr).

And, of course, there is the in­fa­mous alerte orange, dif­fused on a reg­u­lar ba­sis when­ever there is a threat of more ex­treme weather con­di­tions – storms, down­pours, very hot weather, large hail­stones, heavy snow… You name it, any weather that is slightly more ex­ag­ger­ated than usual mer­its an alerte orange, and on oc­ca­sion even an alerte rouge!

The south of France en­joys a Mediter­ranean cli­mate

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