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Heatwave: What are the highest temperatures ever recorded in France?

With more than half of France on alert for high temperatures and meteorologists expecting European heat records to be broken this August, we take a look at the history books to find out just how hot it got in l’Héxagone in previous years.

Heatwave: What are the highest temperatures ever recorded in France?
Photos: AFP

France’s Météo France weather body put 66 departments on orange alert on Thursday August 2, 2018, with temperatures expected to exceed 35 degrees Celsius in much of France’s western, eastern and interior regions over the following days.

Only Brittany, Normandy and Hauts de France in the north of the territory will escape the country’s latest heatwave.

In the south of France, temperatures will exceed 40C, suffering the consequences of an even more extreme heatwave hitting the Iberian peninsula that the UK’s Met Office says “could beat the all-time European continental record of 48C“.

It’s safe to say it’s about to get even hotter this summer in France, but will these extreme temperatures be the highest ever?

In 2017, four departments reached 42C (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Var, Bouches-du-Rhone and Gard), very high but not the hottest on record. 

Here are the highest temperatures ever recorded in France and the towns and cities that had to withstand this scorching summer weather.

43.1C (109.6 °F) Decize (Nièvre) August 11, 2003

August 2003 was an exceptionally hot month in France, so much so that five spots on this top ten ranking are temperatures recorded during an eight-day period that month.

For the 5,000 residents of Decize – a quaint town slap bang in the middle of France – cooling down on this agonizing August day may have involved jumping head first into the river Loire, which luckily for them runs through the commune.

 

A post shared by Josy Caille (@josycaille) on Jul 30, 2018 at 5:31am PDT


43.1C (109.6 °F) Chusclan (Gard) August 12, 2003

The ninth highest temperature in French history books was recorded the following day, further south in the department of Gard.

In fact, this Occitan department takes top spot on the podium and makes more appearances on this list than any other.

Chusclan is another tiny French municipality too far inland to have been saved by a cool sea breeze in those sweltering days in August 2013.

Not a single place that’s recorded one of France’s 10 highest temperatures is on the coast.

 

#baignade #riviere #weekend

A post shared by Damien Audemar (@damien84420) on Jul 13, 2018 at 12:40pm PDT

 

 

43.2C (109.8 °F) Broût-Vernet (Allier)July 13, 1983

Around 15 km north-west of Vichy and 40 km north of Clermont-Ferrand lies this small village of roughly 1,000 people.

It’s been around for centuries but its main claim to fame is the extreme heat in recorded on the eve of Bastille Day 1983.

Photo: Patrick Boyer/Flickr


43.4C (110.1 °F) Sartène (Corse-du-Sud) July 23, 2009

Spanish speakers may be amused by the fact that this Corsican town name sounds a lot like “frying pan” in Castilian (sartén).

For its 3,000 residents it must’ve certainly felt like they were being cooked alive by the sun. In 2017, Sartène came close to its previous record, reaching 42.1C.

Photo: Jean Pol Grandmot/Flickr


43.7C (110.7 °F) Le Blanc (Indre) August 1, 1947

The hottest place in France in the 1940s was this small town in France’s Centre-Val de Loire region.

The almost 44C Le Blanc recorded has not been matched since in the area, with 37C being the highest departmental temperature in the summer of 2017, one of the hottest Julys and Augusts in France in recent years.

 

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A post shared by Ł A U R I N E ➰ (@laurine_roodenburg) on Jul 31, 2018 at 4:15am PDT


43.7C (110.7 °F) Saint-Andiol (Bouches-du-Rhône) August 4, 2003

This village an hour from Marseille seems to be a place of weather extremes.

It recorded the fourth highest temperature ever in France in 2003 and in 2010 experienced severe floods and mudslides that also made national headlines.

Photo: AFP


43.9C (111.0 °F) Entrecasteaux (Var) July 7, 1982

France’s southeastern Var region is no stranger to extreme temperatures, recording 42C in 2017 along with a number of other departments in the south.

Entrecasteaux, 62 kilometres from Saint Tropez, was the hottest place on record in France in the 1980s.

 

44C (111 °F) Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) August 8, 1923

La Ville en Rose (the Pink City) turned red-hot on this roasting summer day 95 years ago, the earliest record on this list.

Toulouse was just 3 degrees off the hottest world temperature that year, 47 degrees in the North West Australian town of Marble Bar.

Photo: AFP


44.1C (111.4 °F) Saint-Christol-lès-Alès and Conqueyrac, Gard August 12, 2003

Two villages a half an hour drive away from each in southern France both recorded the highest temperature ever in French history… on the same day!

It’s fair to say that the southeastern department of Gard was France’s hottest area that summer, during what meteorologists have labelled Europe’s worst heatwave since at least 1540.

Conqueyrac. Photo: Anthony Morel/Flickr

There were a staggering 14,802 heat-related deaths (mostly among the elderly) in France during July and August 2003, according to the country's National Institute of Health.

In the city of Auxerre in Burgundy, the temperature stayed above 40C for eight consecutive days. The capital of France’s Yonne department was also the hottest city in France that year with the mercury rising to 41.1C.

The heat map below shows the difference in average temperatures for countries in Europe (data from 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004) compared to the heat levels reached between 20 July – 20 August 2003. Southern and western France clearly show the greatest temperature anomally in all of western Europe. 

It was a particularly catastrophic summer for France, forcing authorities to think of new ways to prepare for weather extremes they had previously not encountered for such an extended period of time. 

Photo: Reto Stockli and Robert Simmon, based upon data provided by the MODIS Land Science Team/Wikicommons

 

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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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