VIDEOS: Heavy snow causes travel chaos and power cuts in central France

Some 200,000 homes were still without power across France on Tuesday after heavy snow fell across central regions on Monday evening, leaving hundreds stranded in their cars. Parts of the country are still on alert with the early wintry weather set to continue.

VIDEOS: Heavy snow causes travel chaos and power cuts in central France
The Route National 88 in central France were hundreds of motorists were left stranded by the snow. Photo: Twitter

Winter arrived early in parts of France on Monday and it took many by surprise, not the least the 950 motorists who were left stranded on roads in the Haute-Loire and Loire departments of central France when heavy snow fell on Monday evening.

On Tuesday morning there were still some 195,000 homes in France without electricity due to powers cuts.

Further south several people were left injured after storms battered the island of Corsica.

Some 17 departments in central and north eastern France remained on alert for snow on Tuesday morning (see map below). The wintry weather is due to head from the Massif Central towards the Champagne and Ardennes departments throughout Tuesday morning.

The heavy snowfall mainly affected the departments of Haute-Loire, Lozere, Loire, Puy-de-Dome, Cantal, Aveyron, Correze and the Creuse. But there were also wintry showers in Burgundy and the Rhone-Alpes.

In parts of the Haute-Loire there were reports of 50 cm of snow falling in local areas.

It was here where many motorists were caught out and had to spend the night in their vehicles after roads became blocked. The Route Nationale 88 was particularly badly hit.

Several hundred were also evacuated from their cars and spent the night in emergency accommodation.

Jean-Pierre Marcon, the president of the Haute-Loire departmental council criticized both lorry drivers for taking to the roads during heavy snow and drivers who should have changed their tires to be more suitable to the icy conditions.

While drivers took to social media to criticize the lack of warning and the absence of snow plows authorities said abandoned cars had blocked snow clearing vehicles from gaining access to many roads. Members of the public had also been warned that winter weather was on its way to the region.

“It's not normal that they allow lorries to drive when the roads are not suitable,” one angry driver called Bruno, whose vehicle was blocked near Pertius told France Info.

Images posted on Twitter by drivers revealed the extent of the travel chaos caused by the snow, with videos showing cars and trucks stranded on roads while some drivers attempted to push their cars out of the deep snow.

Driving proved treacherous in all departments affected by the snow. In Aveyron, a 75-year-old woman was killed in a pile-up that left four others seriously injured near the town of Ségur.

At one point some 7,000 homes were left without electricity due to a power cut although that number had been reduced to 4,000 by Tuesday morning.

Rail traffic between Lyon and Saint-Etienne has been impacted with reports that 400 passengers spent the night on a TGV train while others had to be given hotel accommodation. 

TER train services in the region were badly hit on Tuesday morning.

Motorists in Haute-Loire are advised to avoid travel on Tuesday with several roads remaining blocked due to falling trees.

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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.