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STORM

Western France placed on storm and flood alert

Much of the west and south west of France remained on alert on Tuesday with storms and heavy rain expected to hit the region, just a day after hailstorms wreaked havoc for wine growers in one part of the country.

Western France placed on storm and flood alert
Photo: Bruce Guenter

Météo France, the country’s weather service place 11 departments in the south west and west of France on Orange alert on Tuesday, with heavy rain and storms expected to hit the region.

It comes a day after Paris and the south west of France were hit by storms, which were accompanied by gales, hail storms, downpours and fork lightning.

The 12 departments that remain on alert ( see map) are Charente, Charente-Maritime, Deux-Sevres, Dordogne, Gers, Gironde, Haute Pyrénées, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Vienne and Haute-Garonne, where Méteo France says there is a high risk of flooding.

Residents in those departments can expect similar violent storms to those seen in Paris on Monday.

Fire fighters in the French capital were bombarded with around 1,200 emergency calls, mostly concerning flooding caused by the downpours of fires sparked by the lightning.

The storms, the likes of which are more akin to the tropics than western Europe, caused widespread damage in the department of Touraine in central France, which had not been placed on Orange Alert on Monday.

Particularly affected were vineyard owners in the Vouvray who saw several hectares of vines ruined in just  a matter of minutes by hailstones, the size of ping pong balls.

“It’s a catastrophe, the storm lasted ten minutes and destroyed everything,” Christian Feray, manager at the Château de Montcontour told Europe1 radio.

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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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