French forecasters predict unusually violent Mediterranean storms this autumn

Dramatic storms along the Mediterranean coastline are normal as temperatures fall at the end of the summer, but French weather forecasters say the heatwaves of 2022 are likely to lead to unusually violent, possibly event fatal, storms this year.

French forecasters predict unusually violent Mediterranean storms this autumn
The aftermath of an épisode cévenol in October 2015 (Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP)

While a fifth heatwave is a strong possibility – forecasters predict yet another hot spell starting on Tuesday, August 23th – the autumn storm season in the far south of the country is a longer-term weather concern for meteorologists as climate change exacerbates annual weather events.

READ ALSO IN PICTURES: Storms and flash flooding hit Paris

Violent and sometimes deadly storms – known as épisodes cévenol or épisodes méditerranéen – are not unusual in the south of France in the autumn. 

In November and then again in December 2019, Cannes and its surroundings were partially inundated. Four years earlier, on the night of October 3rd and 4th, 2015, an épisode méditerranéen in an area stretching from Mandelieu to Antibes left 20 dead. 

The storms have happened annually for centuries – caused by warm air currents coming off the Mediterranean meeting colder air in the mountains and Massif Central as the season changes.

READ ALSO Is the French Riviera better equipped to avoid more deadly floods?

The storms may be relatively common – up to 10 such storms at the end of a summer in France are classified as épisodes cévenol – but meteorologists are concerned that the long, hot summer of 2022 will lead to more extreme storm events than usual this year. 

Thanks to the repeated heatwaves, sea temperatures of more than 30C were recorded in July in the Mediterranean off the French coast – some 4-6C higher than is considered normal for the time of year.

“We are used to seeing violent storms [in the early autumn] in the South of France. There are usually about 10 storms per year in the Mediterranean arc. But the warmer the water, the more violent this type of episode is likely to be,” one Centre national de la recherche scientifique expert told Le Figaro.

“The danger [of very violent storms] is very high this year. The energy of these storms is related to evaporation from the sea surface. The warmer the water, the higher the energy.”

This is likely to lead to heavy rains as the atmosphere cools after the summer heatwaves, forecasters say.

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France opens up first offshore windfarm – but will more follow?

President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated France’s first offshore windfarm off the coast of Saint-Nazaire on Thursday as he seeks to accelerate renewable energy supply and improve energy security.

France opens up first offshore windfarm - but will more follow?

The 80 turbines will enter full service by the end of the year, and Macron has previously set a goal of about 50 offshore windfarms “providing up to 40 gigawatts” in service by 2050.

Following the belated inauguration of the country’s first offshore windfarm, another at Fécamp is due to start generating power in 2023. Sites in Saint-Brieuc, Fécamp and Courseulles-sur-Mer are set to enter service in 2024.

But France has a long way to go to meet the President’s target, and to catch up with its European neighbours. Before the Saint-Nazaire wind farm (‘parc éolien’ – en français), France had only one floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Le Croisic.

At Thursday’s inauguration event, Macron was to set out the “main lines” of a bill to accelerate France’s renewable energy programme, which will be presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, September 26th.

READ ALSO France generates electricity from offshore wind farm for the first time

There is no doubt that renewable energy production in France is accelerating. On top of the 80 offshore turbines at Saint-Nazaire, just under 9,000 onshore turbines are currently producing electricity in France – eight years ago, around half that number of land-based turbines were operational. 

The first turbines in France were only installed in the 1990s – by which time countries like Germany and Denmark already had large-scale operations in place. 

More turbines would be in operation now in France, but for the lengthy planning process and appeals against projects, which have delayed construction for several years.

Hauts-de-France and Grand-Est, account for 50 percent of the wind-produced power in France. Île-de-France, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, and Corsica lag behind the other regions.

READ MORE: Energy shortages: What’s the problem with France’s nuclear industry?

In 2020, wind produced just eight percent of its electricity from wind, behind hydroelectric stations, while nuclear power generated nearly 70 percent of the country’s electricity.

Wind power accounted for 20 percent of electricity generation in Germany and Spain, while the UK was at 30 percent in 2020, Portugal produced 40 percent, and Denmark’s windfarms met 60 percent of the country’s electricity needs.