Forecast: Will summer in France ever get going?

For sun-worshippers, the great French summer has been a relative disappointment so far… and the bad news is forecasters do not expect things to get much better as July eases into August.

Forecast: Will summer in France ever get going?
Holidaymakers on the beach at Saint-Malo in July 2021 Photo: Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP

With the exception of Mediterranean areas, the first two-thirds of summer 2021 in France have been a something of a damp squib – July has so far seen 60 percent more rainfall than normal for the time of year, and skies covered by more cloud than usual.

And forecasters predict that the first two weeks of August will see little change in weather patterns. Temperatures this weekend are not expected to rise above 27C anywhere in France, low for the time of year. The last summer of this cooler, wetter kind was in 2014.

“It seems fairly certain that the first two weeks of the month [of August] will be… frequently rainy, relatively cool for the season, the Mediterranean rim being more favoured,” forecaster Météo Consult said.

Usually, at this time of year, a high pressure system over the Azores extends towards the Bay of Biscay and France, guaranteeing warm and sunny weather.

This year, that regular summer high pressure system is too far away to prevent low-pressure systems circulating over western Europe – bringing rain and storms, and lower-than-normal temperatures to the northern half of the country.

On top of this, the latest models predict active storms moving from the Pyrénées towards the Alps from Tuesday. Forecasters say it could even feel quite autumnal in northern areas from Thursday, August 5th, through to Sunday, August 8th, as low pressure over Britain brings its share of clouds, wind and rain.

It is still unclear how far south the effects of this low-pressure system will be felt – so far, forecasters are only confident about saying the south-east and Mediterranean regions should escape the worst of the bad weather, and enjoy dry, sunny and warm conditions.

And it had all seemed so promising. Mid-June saw a brief early summer hot spell, with temperatures reaching 37C in Perpignan and 35C in Paris. But it didn’t last. The storms that followed preceded an extended period of rain and thunderstorms across much of the country, with temperatures well down on seasonal norms.

The good news is that the second half of August looks better than the first through the meteorologists’ long lens. Models suggest that anticyclonic conditions will return, bringing sun and rising temperatures at the back end of the summer holidays. We may even get to bask in a heatwave just before the schools reopen…

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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.