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WEATHER

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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ENVIRONMENT

France under pressure to save dolphins from trawlers

Hundreds of dolphins are washing up on France's Atlantic coast and thousands more are believed killed in fishermen's nets each year, as environmentalists and Brussels pressure the government to protect the marine mammals.

France under pressure to save dolphins from trawlers

On Wednesday, Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, head of the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO), said he would write to President Emmanuel Macron that “the time has come to do our utmost to save dolphins from mistreatment or even extinction.

“This dramatic situation is even less acceptable given that it is avoidable,” Bougrain-Dubourg added.

Pro-dolphin activists say harmful fishing activities, including deep-sea and sea-bed trawling, must be halted for several weeks in the Bay of Biscay between France and Spain.

The Pelagis ocean observatory has spotted a surge in dolphin deaths on the Atlantic coast, with 127 common dolphins washed up in January alone — up from 73 in the same month last year.

Increased dolphin deaths are usually seen later in the year, during their February-March coastal feeding season that brings them closer to fishing vessels chasing hake and sea bass.

This year the increase in finds is “especially early”, Pelagis said this month.

Over the whole of 2022, 669 dolphins washed up — down from 1,299 in 2020.

Scientists believe that more than 80 percent of dead dolphins sink or decompose at sea rather than washing ashore, suggesting the real number of deaths is far higher at up to 11,000 per year.

Of the washed-up dolphins, “most presented signs of being caught in fishing equipment”, Pelagis said, with the LPO singling out “slices in the tail fins and clear traces of nets” on their skin.

‘Half-measures’

CIEM, a scientific body that tracks North Atlantic ecosystems, has for years urged a winter pause for some indiscriminate fishing techniques, meeting fierce resistance from industrial fishermen.

After two years of pressure from the European Commission and under the spotlight from activists, Paris has so far offered an eight-point plan with technical measures, stopping far short of an outright ban. 

Measures include a voluntary observer scheme aboard fishing vessels, satellite tracking and fitting trawlers with cameras or acoustic repellent devices that drive the dolphins away.

Many fishing ships are already fitted with the devices in a “large-scale experiment” to test their effectiveness, the government said.

But the LPO denounced the government moves as “half-measures… that will change nothing and cost us precious time”.

Environmentalist group Sea Shepherd said the repellent devices “create huge exclusion zones in dolphins’ feeding grounds” that risk cutting them off from needed nourishment.

Paris has not completely closed the door to temporary bans, suggesting “time- and space-limited closures” to fishing could be tested in the Bay of Biscay in winter 2024-25 “if there are no satisfactory results in reducing accidental catches” of dolphins.

That isn’t soon enough for the activists. Sea Shepherd have filed a criminal complaint on January 16th against persons unknown over the failure to intervene.

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