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ENVIRONMENT

‘No region has been spared’: Why the dry weather in France is causing concern

France is used to long, hot summers. The French are even used to water restrictions. But the warm, dry conditions right now, after another dry winter could have implications beyond not being allowed to water your tomatoes.

'No region has been spared': Why the dry weather in France is causing concern
French farmers fear this year's wheat harvest could be hit by the current hot, dry spell. (Photo: Joel Saget / AFP)

The Local reported on the unusually early spell of warm weather earlier this week and concerns over water levels as temperatures passed 30C in the southwest of the country for the first time this year. Since that report, the number of départements under water restrictions because of drought has risen from 10 to 15. One area in the east of Bouches-du-Rhône is already at ‘crisis’ level.

National forecaster Meteo-France said the country was in the grip of a hot spell that is “notable for its timing, its duration and its geographical spread”, and had recorded a 20-percent drop in rainfall nationally between September 2021 and April 2022.

French farmers are worried about their harvests. France is the EU’s biggest wheat exporter, and one of the top five in the world. But hopes that French farmers would be able to offset at least some of the shortfall in the world’s supply of grain following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been hit by the record low rainfall so far this year, which have prompted warnings of a large drop in yields.

The hot, dry conditions could not have come at a worse time. On Monday, France’s Agriculture Ministry warned about the impact of an unseasonably hot and dry stretch which it said “will have an impact on cereal production” in France following lower-than-average winter rainfall.

As well as wheat, other crops sown in winter, such as barley, are in a crucial development stage, while corn and sunflower production over the summer could also be hit.

Farmers have had to water wheat already, otherwise yields would drop dramatically. “We wouldn’t normally water at this time of the year but the dry periods are coming earlier and earlier,” one farmer in the Loiret told AFP. “If we don’t water today, we’ll lose 50 percent of our output.” 

The war in Ukraine means wheat prices are already at record levels – already at more than €400 a tonne in Europe for delivery in September, up from €260/tonne a year before Russia’s invasion. A strong harvest in France would offset some of the global food chain issues caused by the conflict.

But, because of the lack of rain, two-thirds of France is already experiencing dry to very dry soils – prompting concern of a soil or agricultural drought, in which the water deficit in soil is bad enough to alter the proper development of vegetation. 

Over the past three months, soils have remained very dry for the season in the eastern half of France, Corsica and locally in northern France – a situation that occurs, on average, one year in 10.  

They have been extremely dry over the same period in PACA, Corsica, the Massif Central, parts of Burgundy, the Grand-East and Hauts-de-France, a one-year-in-25 situation.  

That means the prospect is for a smaller than usual wheat harvest. With wheat-producing states in the US such as Kansas and Oklahoma also suffering in drought conditions, a poor harvest in France this year could be particularly significant – and could lead to wheat prices rising even higher.

“We already had markets that were very nervous. This is adding to tensions,” Nathan Cordier, a grain market analysts at agricultural consultancy Agritel, told AFP. “France is one of the major players in the wheat market and people are counting on it. “The question is whether export volumes will be enough.”

“No region has been spared. We can see the earth cracking every day,” Christiane Lambert, of France’s biggest agricultural union FNSEA, told AFP on Monday. “If things carry on like this, farmers who can irrigate their crops will be able to deal with it but the others will face a dramatic reduction in yields.”

France’s current hot spell is expected to last until the middle of next week. Forecasts beyond that time are too unreliable to be taken seriously, but Meteo France has warned that the climate trend for the summer is that it will most likely be drier and hotter than normal.

If rain returns towards the end of the month and into June, experts say it will partially compensate for the water deficit in the year to date, but will not have much effect on the water table or river flows.

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WEATHER

Snow forecast in Paris as France shivers in early December chill

The French capital is set to see December snow this weekend, as temperatures dip across the country.

Snow forecast in Paris as France shivers in early December chill

Paris is expected to see its first snow of winter this weekend, with temperatures falling to between one and three degrees.

As France’s hottest year on record enters its final month, a small amount of snow is forecast in the greater Paris region on Friday evening – specifically Yvelines and part of Val-d’Oise, while rain in Essonne will mix with snow. Overnight, flurries are expected in Seine-Saint-Denis and into Paris itself – but no more than a dusting is expected.

Snow, this early in the season, is unusual in the capital. In 2010, 11 centimetres fell on December 9th, paralysing the city’s public transport system. It was the worst snowfall in the city in 25 years – and has not been repeated since. Generally, snow in Paris does not stick around.  

It’s not just the capital that it will feel chilly, Saturday will be cold across a large part of the country, as temperatures finally drop below seasonal norms, by as much as 5 degrees in some parts of France. Rain is forecast in the south, while the north will remain cloudy.

Some light overnight frosts are possible, according to Météo France, while temperatures are expected to reach between 3C and 6C in the north of the country, 7C to 9C further south, and up to 13C around the Mediterranean.

READ ALSO ‘We’re not in a disaster movie’ – How likely are blackouts in France this winter?

On Saturday, rain is expected in the south-east, which could bring a few centimetres of snow to the Massif Central at altitudes as low as 400m. 

On Sunday, some light snowfall may occur in the north-east, perhaps spreading as far as the historic Limousin area – but it is not expected to last. 

The Southern Alps should also see some snowfall on Saturday, and again on Sunday afternoon. A few flakes could also fall on the western part of the Pyrenees on Saturday afternoon, forecasters at Météo France said.

The cold spell will be shortlived, with temperatures rising again in the south of the country from Monday-Tuesday, and will do nothing to prevent 2022 setting climate records in France.

READ ALSO France’s ‘coldest village’ has its first frost-free October on record

Météo France said that global warming means cold periods in France are indeed increasingly rare and less intense. The winters of 2014 to 2021 were all “above normal”, while four of the five warmest winters on record were in 2007, 2014, 2016 and 2020.

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