Central France on alert for more violent storms

Four departments in central France were placed on storm alert on Monday, as France braces itself for another week of extreme weather.

Central France on alert for more violent storms
More storms were predicted in the Lyon region on Monday. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP.

The Allier, Puy-de-Dôme, Loire and Rhône departments have been placed on orange alert, based on forecasts by Météo France. ‘Violent’ storms were expected to begin on Monday afternoon, with hailstorms, heavy rain and strong winds.

On Tuesday, June 22nd, three months’ worth of rain fell in one day in the northern town of Beauvais, leading to floods and collisions on the roads. While on Friday, June 18th, thousands of homes in south west France were without electricity after violent overnight storms after an early summer heatwave ended with a thunderous bang.

And after a brief respite there was more on the way – starting on Saturday as the 2021 Tour de France got under way in Brittany. 

Storms in the south west caused damage to trees and power lines on Sunday.

The Météo-France forecast for Monday evening. Image: Météo-France

Forecasters said the cause of this latest series of thunderstorms is a weather phenomenon known as a ‘cold drop’ – a mass of isolated cold air surrounded by areas of warmer air. 

As the animation from storm watchers Keraunos shows, that problematic mass of storm-causing cold air that has travelled from Britain is expected to bounce around France for several days.

The Météo-France forecast for Tuesday afternoon. Image: Météo-France

Temperatures will stick below normal for the season for most of the country, while forecasters expect storms to bubble up towards the end of the day from Monday until at least Thursday. 

Forecasters admit the scenario could change a bit depending on the behaviour of the cold drop, which may disappear faster than models predict. But the consensus of opinion is that we should expect rain and storms for a few days to come.

Storms are not unusual at this time of year – they are most common in France in June, July and August, with an average of 15 to 20 stormy days each summer. We will be at the lower end of that average by the end of next week.

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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.