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Will anywhere in France get a white Christmas this year?

A white Christmas might be at the top of many people's festive wish list but will it actually come true for anyone in France this year?

Haut-Koenigsbourg castle in Orschwiller, eastern France.
Haut-Koenigsbourg castle in Orschwiller, eastern France. Non-mountainous parts of the country will not see snow this year. (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)

If you’re in France and have been dreaming of a white Christmas, you are probably out of luck. 

It has been freezing in recent days with temperatures falling to a low of -33.4C in Jura on Wednesday morning, but the cold spell isn’t going to last. 

Temperatures across the country will hover around the 10C level in most of France by the afternoon on December 25th according to Météo France, with parts of the country including Brittany and some parts of eastern France experiencing rainfall. 

By the afternoon on Christmas Day, the chances of snow look extremely limited. Source: www.meteofrance.com

On Saturday, there will be some snowfall, but only if you are high in the mountains at an altitude of 1,800-2,000m. On Sunday, places above 1,500m could also see snow – but this rules out the vast majority of the country. 

Roughly half the country will see sunshine over the weekend. The French weather channel said that this Christmas could be among the top five or six warmest since 1947. 

Last year, Météo France cautioned: “While we often associate snow with Christmas in the popular imagination, the probability of having snow in the plains [ie not in the mountains] during this period is weak in reality.”

One of the last great Christmas snowfalls, outside of France’s mountainous areas, came in 2010 when 3-10 cm of snow fell in Lille, Rouen and Paris. In Strasbourg, 26cm fell. 

On Christmas Day in 1996, 12 cm of snow fell in Angers – ironically, this was also the day that the film, Y’aura t’il de la neige à Noël? (Will there never be snow at Christmas?) was released. It had been ten years since France had seen such snowfall outside of the Alps and Pyrenees. 

Météo France directly attributes declining rates of Christmas snowfall to climate change. Compared to 50 years ago, even the Alps receives the equivalent one less month of snowfall per year. 

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CLIMATE CRISIS

‘Over 40C’: What will summers in Paris be like in future?

In June 2022, France sweltered under an unusually early heatwave - but experts have warned that these conditions, regarded today as extreme, will become the norm sooner rather than later.

'Over 40C': What will summers in Paris be like in future?

Regional climate experts warn the Paris region is on track to see average temperatures rise by 3C in a century “if greenhouse gas emissions of human activities are not stopped.”

And the Groupe régional d’expertise sur le changement climatique (Grec) in the Paris region of Île-de-France is now saying that average temperatures in the region will continue to rise at an accelerating rate. 

In the past 72 years, Île-de-France has seen its average temperature increase by 2C. By 2050, just 28 years from now, that figure could increase by an additional 1C – meaning average temperatures in the greater Paris region could increase by 3C in a century. 

That roughly means that the number of “heatwave” days recorded in the Paris region – when temperatures are above normal for that time of year – will rise from 7 annually to between 28 to 30 days each year by 2070.

Part of the problem is something known as the urban heat sink effect – in which large towns and cities stay warmer at night because buildings and even roads release heat at night, when it is cooler.

As a result, night-time temperatures in towns and cities remain higher than in more rural areas. And every morning starts a little hotter than previous day, making cities more and more stifling. Night-time temperature in Paris can be up to 10C higher than in rural areas of – a difference recorded during the deadly 2003 heatwave.

The study also warned that the area would be subject to devastating widespread flooding.

Nationally, temperature records tumbled last month. In Biarritz, on the southwest coast of France, the highest temperature ever – 42.9C – was recorded on June 18th. On the same day, Tarbes, in the Hautes-Pyrénées, and Rochefort Saint-Aignan, Charente-Maritime, also recorded their highest-ever temperatures since records began, while more than 150 towns and cities set new temperature records for the month of June.

During the same heatwave, 35C was recorded at the Orly-Athis-Mons weather station – which the Grec group uses for its observations in Île-de-France.

Grec climatologists said that high temperatures will become increasingly common in the region. Board members Robert Vautard and Nathalie de Noblet said in a statement that the same station has recorded similar temperatures in June just twice previously in 75 years – in 1947 and 2017.

They said the trend is for such temperatures to be reached more often in the years to come: “It is to be expected that this type of event will become more and more usual if the greenhouse gas emissions of human activities are not stopped,” they said, adding that – without climate change – high temperature records in the region would be about 2C lower.

The Grec report mirrors national and international studies. Shortly after the country’s last heatwave ended the director of France’s Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques said: “This heatwave is exceptional in terms of its precocity. This type of event in mid-June is extremely rare.”

But, while they are exceptional today, scientists predict they will be the standard within just a few years.  “Today, scientific knowledge on heatwaves is very clear. Any heatwave event is made more intense and severe by climate change … by the increase in temperature in the atmosphere resulting from greenhouse gas emissions.”

Only three years ago the highest temperature in France – 46C – was recorded in Verargues, Hérault, on June 28, 2019. The top 12 temperatures on record in France were set that day alone. 

Records show that, of the 43 heatwaves France has endured between 1947 and 2020, nine occurred before 1989. 

And a second heatwave this summer is already here. Forecasters are predicting temperatures could reach 40C in southeast France by Wednesday, July 6th, after temperatures got close to the mark on Sunday.

For a heat wave alert to be officially triggered, certain temperatures must be reached both during the day and at night for three days in a row. The trigger thresholds vary according to the area – the south of the country needs to be warmer than the north.

With global warming continuing, heatwaves will become increasingly frequent, according to climatologist Françoise Vimeux: “During the second half of the 19th century a heat wave occurred once every 50 years. Now it happens every 10 years – it will get worse. 

“We are heading towards warming levels of 1.5 degrees, and so the probability [of a heatwave] will be once every five years.”

Météo France’s climate predictions indicate that, by 2050, the deadly heatwave of 2003 would be considered part of “a normal summer, even slightly cool”. 

That was the summer in which 15,000 excess deaths were recorded in France, including 5,000 in Paris, and attributed to the heat. It prompted the government of the day to set up the emergency response programme that can be implemented today.

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