Just how hot is this week’s May heatwave in France?

Temperature records are tumbling as France swelters in an early summer hot spell - and forecasters predict more highs will be reached before any respite.

Just how hot is this week's May heatwave in France?
Children cool off in the "Miroir d'Eau" in Bordeaux, on May 18, 2022 as France bakes under a hot spell. (Photo: Philippe Lopez / AFP)

In the northern département of Manche, a département unaccustomed to high temperatures, the mercury reached 26C in La Hague on Tuesday, breaking a record for May dating back to 1922. The highest temperature on Tuesday across France was 32.8C recorded in Agen. But that record is not expected to last long.

Keraunos, the observatory for tornadoes and violent thunderstorms, warned that France could see a new national temperature record close to 37C between Friday and Sunday, some +17C higher than normal for the time of year.

According to national forecaster Météo France, temperatures were expected to hit 34C in Toulouse on Wednesday, beating the May record of 33.1C in the Pink City set in 2001, while Bordeaux was expected to see similarly high temperatures. Forecasters predicted 31C in Paris, compared to around 22C normally, while in the far north of the country, 29C was expected in Lille.

According to François Jobard, forecaster for Météo France, “since at least 1947, there has never been a ‘heat wave’ in May, because the hottest day in May remained well below 25.3 ° C (22.9°C: May 28, 2017). In fact, until now, this threshold has never been reached before a June 20…”

The reason for the unseasonably high temperatures? Since the beginning of May, France has been blocked under an anticyclone. “We are already seeing an anomaly of more than 2.7 degrees higher than average,” a Meteo France spokesperson told Franceinfo. 

Forecasters fear temperatures across the whole of the month could end up being 3C above normal. The hottest May on record was in 2011, when average temperatures were 1.85C higher than the average.

A European Commission report said the hottest May day since measurements began was expected on Wednesday, particularly in the Rhone valley.

Despite storms forecast for Wednesday in the north and west of the country, which are set to spread across France over the weekend, Météo France forecaster Gaétan Heymes said in a Tweet that it is “almost certain that this month will be drier than normal. Beating the 2011 drought record remains largely possible…”

That will mean nine of the past 10 months – December is the odd one out – have been drier than normal.

Meteorologists say the abnormal temperatures risk becoming more frequent in the coming years as a result of climate change.

“Heatwaves are set to become more frequent and tend to set in earlier in the spring than before,” Météo France said.

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Big freeze on the horizon for much of France this weekend

Winter has made its way to France, with below-freezing temperatures expected across much of the country this weekend.

Big freeze on the horizon for much of France this weekend

Cold air from northern Europe will fall over a large part of mainland France, according to French weather forecaster Météo France.

The north of the country, primarily above the horizontal line running from Nantes to Lyon, is expected to see consistent temperatures, “with lows falling to -2C or -3C and highs around 3C until Monday.”

Parts of northern France may also experience snowfall and icy conditions this weekend, starting from Thursday night into Friday.

The départements most likely to be affected are in the country’s centre and east. Some have been placed in the “yellow” warning category, as shown below:

A screenshot from Meteo France, showing départements in the “yellow” warning category for Friday, December 9th

As for the south of France, the maximum average temperature is expected to be around 10C for Friday and to drop to around 7C and 6C for Saturday and Sunday,” Météo France forecaster Florian Hortala told Franceinfo. Though warmer weather will likely be present in Basque country and along the Mediterranean, according to TF1.

Nevertheless – Hortala told Franceinfo that the cold weather is still not chilly enough to constitute a “cold wave,” as temperatures are not low enough below seasonal norms. To be considered a “cold wave” the average national temperature must fall below -2C at least once, and remain under 0.9C for at least three days without going above 2.2C.