France faces very hot summer with risk of droughts and wildfires, forecasters warn

After an unprecedented early heatwave in June, summer in France is set to be unusually hot with a high risk of drought and wildfires, according to long-range weather forecasts.

France faces very hot summer with risk of droughts and wildfires, forecasters warn
The parched river bed of the Gardon near the Saint-Nicolas de Campagnac bridge in Saint-Anastasie, southern France, after a heat wave hit France, on June 20, 2022. Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Summer has only just begun, but temperatures in May were the third warmest since 1900 and June’s heatwave was the earliest on record in France.

According to French meteorologists, this will continue throughout the summer of 2022 – which is predicted to be unusually hot and dry. 

Though meteorologists warn that weather cannot be predicted accurately more than 15 days in advance, there are still signs that point to a hotter average summer for 2022, with low rainfall that will lead to drought.

Low rainfall throughout the year

After low rainfall this year, several départements are already at yellow and orange alert levels for drought, with water restrictions in place.

MAP Where are water restrictions in place and what do they mean?

A map of water restrictions in France, as of 20 June 2022, by the Ministry of Environment

Earlier in the year, France’s monthly rainfall deficit was 30 to 40 percent in February and March, 25 percent in April and 65 percent in May. Additionally, as of May, 2022 was listed as the fourth driest year on record since 1959 in France.

For the month of July, Météo France predicts that weather patterns may be a little more unstable over northern Europe, which may overflow into northern France and lead to more rainfall and possibly recurrent thunderstorms.

However, further south, meteorologists predict the weather will remain generally dry. For the month of August, the CFS method for modelling weather patterns predicts average rainfalls.

According to seasonal predictions, France’s southern half is listed as “likely” to experience drought.

While thunderstorms are expected throughout the summer, meteorologists worry this will not lesson drought, as they are very localised and thus “a few kilometers away, where the storm has not passed, the drought remains at the same level,” explained Météo France’s Romaric Cinotti.

The dry conditions also means an increased risk wildfires this summer.

High temperatures

According to the seasonal trends for the summer, which were presented in early June, a “hot” scenario is “very likely” for the southern half of the country and “likely” for the northern half.

Listen to The Local’s podcast Talking France for more on how French cities are changing to adapt to the heat.

A dry scenario is also “likely” over the southern half.

Both European and American weather prediction models have found that recurrent heatwaves and abnormally high average temperatures will occur in the months of July and August.

The European seasonal model predicts temperatures exceeding +2C over most of France, while the American model expects temperature anomalies to fall between +0.5 to +1C. Ultimately, meteorologists agree that summer temperatures are expected to exceed average seasonal temperatures and that a ‘cool’ summer does not seem to be on the agenda.

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IN PICTURES: French drought intensifies as River Loire dries up

As France continues to suffer its worst drought on record, many of its mighty rivers - including the Loire and the Dordogne - have in some areas dwindled to a trickle while in other regions lakes and reservoirs have vanished.

IN PICTURES: French drought intensifies as River Loire dries up

Almost all of France is now under some level of water restrictions and in many communes tap water has been rationed or even cut off altogether as supplies run dry.

The climate crisis-linked drought – intensified by an unusually hot summer – has dried out many subterranean water supplies, but the country’s rivers are also affected.

From the Loire to the Dordogne, rivers are slowing to a trickle – as this aerial video from French TV channel LCI shows.

The dry bed of the Loire River in Saumur, western France on August 8th. Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP)

Swimmers bathe in the Adour river near Aire-sur-Adour, southwestern France, on August 9th. Photo by GAIZKA IROZ / AFP

Across France many lakes have also virtually dried up, while reservoirs are at a perilously low level.

The dry bed of Lac des Brenets, part of the Doubs River, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

In inland areas, many lakes have ‘beaches’ that serve as leisure attractions for locals who are too far away for day-trips to the sea – complete with sun-beds, bars, cafés and souvenir stalls.

Some lake beaches have been forced to close because of the lack of water.

A man walks at the Castillon lake, partially dried out, in Saint-Andre-les-Alpes, southeastern France. Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP

Marshland has also dried out, threatening wildlife and also the livelihood of France’s artisan salt-makers, who produce fleur de sel from salt marshes around the French coastline.

French salt worker Evan Thoby collects salt flowers in salt marshes, in Batz-sur-Mer, western France. Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

These scenes have been repeated across Europe, including in Italy where the Po river has dried up and Germany where the Rhine – which carried a huge amount of freight traffic in normal times – is perilously low and has had to restrict shipping.