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Temperatures in France set to plummet to -18°C as snow and ice cause chaos

Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

Temperatures as low as -18°C are expected in parts of France Wednesday night as the Europe-wide cold snap sends the thermometer plunging. The usually sunny island of Corsica is under 20-40 cm of snow and at least one motorway is blocked on the mainland.

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After an unusually mild but damp December and January, temperatures have plunged

Wednesday night forecast temperatures
RFI/Anthony Terrade

below zero this week -15°C in the town of Rodez and -14°C in Espalion, in the southern Aveyron department.

And it’s going to get worse. On Friday and Saturday three-quarters of the country will be at -10°C and wind chill should push that down to -20°C, forecaster Guillaume Séchet told the Direct Matin freesheet.

Soaring demand for electriticy caused power cuts for about 50,000 households on Tuesday and Wednesday and roads have been cut off in some mountainous areas.

  • Corsica was the worst hit Tuesday – Snow was between 20 and 40cm deep in the mountainous centre of the island; traffic was disrupted on the main road, the RN 193, linking Ajaccio and Bastia, and many mountain roads were closed, with snowploughs clearing stranded vehicles on the Vizzavona pass; more than 30,000 households were without electricity on Wednesday morning.
  • In the south and south-west an accident involving lorries ignoring a ban on vehicles of over 7.5 tonnes caused a 20 km tailback on the A8 motorway, another accident was reported on the N7 as stopped falling and sunshine returned on Wednesday in the south-east; temperatures hit -13°C in Lyon and around.
  • In the north of the country temperatures are expected to fall to -14°C on the Channel coast on Wednesday night and be below freezing point from Brittany to Picardy; Pas-de-Calais and the Marne departments are on maximum alert.

The situation is most worrying for the homeless. Emergency procedures allow local authorities to requisition gyms and other public buildings as shelters. But with a new report putting the number of homeless in France at 700,000, many may be left out in the cold.

In December 49 per cent of callers to an emergency number failed to find shelter, according to social welfare campaigners. At least 329 homeless people died on cold in 2011, they say.

The cold snap is likely to be relatively short, however.

Temperatures should rise again in the west of the country at the beginning of next week, a little later in the east.

Freezing temperatures have caused disruption and cost lives across Europe:

  • Ukraine – 43 have died of hypothermia over the past six days, more than 800 have sought medical help for frostbite and hypothermia, schools in Kiev are closed until 5 February at least, 1,735 shelters have been opened with another 122 scheduled, temperatures have hit -30°C.
  • Italy – This week is forecast to be the coldest for 27 years, snow and ice have closed motorways and caused traffic chaos in Milan and Bologna, heavy goods vehicles are bannied from roads in Marche, Tuscany and Umbria, train services are reduced, several football matches were cancelled on Tuesday, -20°C expected in the Alps.
  • Poland – 46 people have died, 10 over the weekend, and temperatures are at -27°C in the south-east.
  • Bulgaria – Five died in snowstorms last week, according to local media, temperatures hit -24°C in the town of Chirpan.
  • Slovakia - two people died as temperatures plunged to minus 24 Celsius, the daily newspaper SME reported.
  • Czech Republic - a 47-year-old homeless man was found frozen to death in the eastern city of Karvina, where the mercury has dropped to -29°C.
  • Bosnia – temperatures hit -31°C.

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