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France - Climate

Mercury rising: soaring temperatures as France experiences winter heatwave

The Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
The Promenade des Anglais in Nice. (Valery HACHE / AFP)

A wave of warm weather is rolling across France with temperatures rising towards 26°C in the southerwestern Basque country. The exceptional weather conditions occuring in the midst of winter are due to recede on Tuesday.

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South-west France enjoyed a partcularly warm Sunday for the winter season: temperatures soared to 26.5°C in Cambo-les-Bains in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department that borders Spain. 

The rest of France also enjoyed unusually warm temperatures for winter even though it rained in the northern part of the country. Paris recorded 16°C over the week end.

According to meteorologists, the four days of warm temperatures in France are due to an anti-cyclone which moved from Morocco, towards Spain and then reached France bringing with it exceptionnally warm air.

The foehn effect is the cause for exceptionally warm temperatures in south-west France. This happened when a mass of air travelling from the south crossed the Pyrenees mountain range into France.

The foehn effect describes an air mass stuck between a warm front and a cold front. It is a change from wet and cold conditions one side of a mountain, to warmer and drier conditions on the other side.

Upon reaching France, on the other side of the Pyrenees, the mass of air compressed and became warmer. This is not an unusual phenomenon and is common in mountainous regions like the Scottish Highlands.

The warmer temperatures – around 10°C higher than the weather average – increase the risks of avalanches. This is why the Savoie and Haute-Savoie are on alert.

Meteo France's François Jobbard said that global warming accentuates the phenomena.

Even though the temperature is unusually warm for February, Saint-Girons in south-western France recorded an all-time high of 31.2°C on 29 February 1960.

But in February 1956, temperatures in north-eastern France dropped below -15°C. The exceptionally cold winter of February 1956 caused a thousand deaths throughout Europe.

As from Tuesday 4 February, Meteo France forecasts usual winter temperatures hovering between 5°C in the north-western city of Caen to 15°C in the south.

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