Heavy rain and strong winds have caused major disruption across many parts of southern France with almost a year's worth of rain falling on the Hérault department, home to the Mediterranean towns of Montpellier and Béziers.

"/> Heavy rain and strong winds have caused major disruption across many parts of southern France with almost a year's worth of rain falling on the Hérault department, home to the Mediterranean towns of Montpellier and Béziers.

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WEATHER

One year’s worth of rain in four days

Heavy rain and strong winds have caused major disruption across many parts of southern France with almost a year's worth of rain falling on the Hérault department, home to the Mediterranean towns of Montpellier and Béziers.

National weather agency Météo France still had orange alerts in place, one step down from its maximum red alert, across ten southern departments on Friday morning. 

Cities including Marseille, Montpellier and Lyon were all affected by the weather, which Météo France expects to worsen again on Friday evening.

In the Hérault region, 70 centimetres (27.5 inches) of rain fell in four days.

The river Hérault avoided bursting its banks and flooding the village of Laroque after rain eased overnight, although more is expected later in the day.

Elsewhere, people were evacuated from their homes as the danger of flooding increased.

A number of schools were closed across the region on Friday as transport was made impossible by flooded roads. Train services have also been disrupted and drivers have been warned to exercise “extreme caution.”

France Télécom said in a statement it had mobilized 1,000 engineers to deal with network problems caused by the storms. The company said 4,000 lines had been cut off in the Languedoc-Roussillon region on Thursday.

Ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said the storms were exceptional. She advised local residents to avoid driving or walking on flooded roads.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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