France late-November ‘cold snap’ forecasts are premature: Météo-France

Temperatures will dip across France next week, but it’s too early to call a 'cold snap', the national forecaster has said.

An orange snowplough, followed by a private car clears overnight snowfall from a country road in central France
Photo: Jean-Francois Monier / AFP

November has been relatively mild across most of the country so far, but forecasts indicate a weather system from the north will bring colder temperatures in the middle of next week – with some models predicting the country will be caught in the grip of a cold snap by the middle of next week.

Not so fast, Météo-France has warned, which is not yet ready to wheel out the ‘cold snap’ phrase – which has a very particular definition. 

The change in weather comes as an anticyclone currently hovering over France moves away, allowing a cold air system to move down from the north. 

For a ‘cold snap’ to be declared, there must be at least three consecutive days during which ‘temperatures remain clearly below seasonal norms’. According to Météo-France, conditions will not be cold enough for long enough next week to meet this standard.

In fact, cold snaps in France are increasingly rare. There were a grand total of 86 ‘cold snap’ days between 1995 and 2020, official records say. Meanwhile, the four longest and most severe cold spells in France were observed in February 1956, January 1963, January 1985 and January 1987.

Rather than a cold snap next week, Météo-France predicts little more than a dip in temperatures as the high-pressure anticyclone keeping France relatively warm begins to move away from Sunday, November 21st. 

The northwest of the country will see the first change in conditions, as cooler air means temperatures will fall to an average high of 9C in the north, and 14C in the south of the country on Sunday and Monday.

Morning frosts should be expected in the northern half of the country from Tuesday, November 23rd, with daytime highs reaching 8C in the north and 11C in the south. There may even be snow later in the week in lower-lying areas of the country – but even this is not unusual, the national forecaster has said.

“We have plenty of examples of snowfall at the end of November,” Météo-France forecaster Frédéric Nathan told franceinfo. “It does not happen every year, but it happens quite regularly, although they are less common because of global warming.”

But he said it was too soon to say for certain that next week will bring cold snap conditions. “All this is to be confirmed: we will begin to see more clearly from Monday.” 

In higher altitude areas of the country, winter has already arrived, raising hopes for a successful winter holiday season – and the colder air is expected to bring more snow in mountainous areas. In parts of the Alps, officials have recorded up to 50cm of snow at altitudes of 1,800m, and as much as 1m above 2,200m. 

Meanwhile, between 20cm and 30cm of snow has fallen in parts of the popular Savoie and Haute-Savoie ski regions.

Meanwhile, although snowfalls have so far been more modest in the Pyrenees, hopes are also high there also for a successful ski season, with slopes scheduled to open from December 4th.

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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.