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
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.
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