Storm warnings issued across France with heatwave set for abrupt end

Météo France placed 28 départements on alert for violent storms on Wednesday with France's early summer heatwave set to come to a swift end.

Storm warnings issued across France with heatwave set for abrupt end
Storm warnings issued across France with heatwave set for abrupt end (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

Days of sweltering temperatures across much of France will peak on Wednesday afternoon with the Mercury set to top 33C in parts.

But Météo France, the country’s weather agency, warned the public to expect violent storms to then move in.

Twenty-eight départements in the west of the country were put on “orange” alert for storms – the second highest warning level.

Downpours and strong winds are forecast and even hail showers.

Members of the public are advised to take shelter indoors, stay away from trees and river banks which may experience flash flooding.

The areas initially at risk were Brittany and parts of Normandy, which will be followed by a large part of the southwest and départements on the border with the Paris region of Île-de-France in Wednesday evening.

The list of departments on “orange” alert are Pyrénées-Atlantiques, les Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Gironde, Dordogne, Charente-Maritime, Charente, Haute-Vienne, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres, Cher, Indre, Creuse, Indre-et-Loire, Loiret, Loir-et-Cher, Maine-et-Loire, Sarthe, Mayenne, Ille-et-Vilaine, Côtes-d’Armor, Eure-et-Loire, Orne, Manche and Calvados. Three additional départements were later added to the list: Seine-Maritime, Eure and Corrèze.

The Météo France forecast said “locally, the storms could result in significant downpours of up to 40 to 50 mm of rain.”

“Violent storms are expected to move north from the Basque Country and spread over Aquitaine, Poitou-Charentes, part of Limousin, the Centre region, Anjou, and then the south of Normandy. They could also cause hailstorms and intense electrical activity. Strong winds could reach 100km/h. The activity of these thunderstorms will gradually weaken during the night and will be slightly milder by the time they reach the Paris region.”

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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.