France records longest ever winter dry spell

France has recorded its longest ever winter dry spell - 32 consecutive days with less than 1mm of rainfall - raising fears of another summer of droughts and water restrictions.

France records longest ever winter dry spell
A view of the Fourcade lake, which is half dried, near Saint-Nexans, western France in February. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

French weather forecaster Météo France has recorded 32 consecutive rain-free days – defined as a day when the average rainfall across France is less than 1mm – the first time this has been seen since records began in 1959.

As of February 20th, the country had only accumulated about 10 percent of its expected precipitation for this time of year, although there is rain forecast for the end of this week.

ANALYSIS How likely are water restrictions in summer 2023?

The summer of 2023 saw record-breaking droughts in France, with water restrictions in place across much of the country and huge wildfires in the south west.

Experts now fear the rain-free period in January and February could spell a repeat this summer, although the next three months are crucial.

February 2023 is on track to be one of the driest ever recorded in France, after Europe endured its second-hottest year ever in 2022, with France, Britain, Spain and Italy setting new average temperature records.

READ MORE: Water limits, apps and leaks: How France plans to deal with future droughts

Climatologist Simon Mittelberger told Le Monde that the current lack of rain “is mainly linked to the anticyclonic conditions since the end of January, which have acted as a kind of shield” to stave off rainfall.

According to Météo France, the current dryness of the soil across France corresponds to what would be expected in mid-April, meaning it is two months ahead of schedule. 

Climate experts anticipate that the country will end the month with a rainfall deficit of over 50 percent, which would make it one of the driest since 1959.

Some parts of the southern part of the country have been placed on the yellow alert, namely in Pyrenees-Orientales. 

This means that agricultural water usage is more tightly regulated, and watering gardens, golf courses, and washing cars is restricted to certain times. You can find more specific information for the Pyrenees-Orientales département HERE

Propluvia map showing parts of France with drought alerts, Screenshot taken by The Local

Concerns for the summer

Météo France told Le Monde that the country is “experiencing a worrying meteorological drought”, as winter rainfall is crucial to help recover lost groundwater ahead of the summer. 

Last month was the third-warmest January on record in Europe, with temperatures on New Year’s Day reaching all-time highs in some parts of the continent, according to the European Union’s Copernicus climate monitor (C3S).

Farmers are also worried about low precipitation levels this winter. In the Rhone Valley, there has not been any significant rainfall since December 15th, according to TF1.

This has caused farmers to be concerned about potentially lower yields this year, as some plants, like wheat, cannot grow properly with the lack of water.

“To maintain these plants, you don’t need much, but you can’t leave them without a drop of water. At this time of year, zero rainfall is really detrimental,” Jean-Pierre Royannez, farmer and president of the Drôme Chamber of Agriculture, told TF1.

Climatologists have said that the next three months will be “decisive”, particularly in determining ground water availability for the summer. 

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‘River of mud’ prompts evacuations in northern France

A "river of mud" triggered by a sudden storm flooded dozens of houses in northern France, prompting evacuations, authorities said on Wednesday.

'River of mud' prompts evacuations in northern France

The 20 minute “deluge” hit villages in the east of the Somme département, not far from the border with Belgium, late on Tuesday, local government chief Stephane Haussoulier told AFP.

The storm triggered large mudslides in some places and set loose a “river of mud” in the worst-hit village of Sailly-Laurette, he added.

Sixteen vehicles were swept away at Sailly-Laurette, which is on the banks of the River Somme. Eleven homes were flooded, some roads destroyed and 24 people evacuated, Haussoulier said.

Locals were out Wednesday clearing a thick layer of mud from streets and gardens, an AFP journalist saw.

At least 10 more villages in the eastern Somme were affected by mudslides.

Videos posted to social media showed flows of mud oozing through the streets of several municipalities.

In some places, it completely covered the wheels of cars struggling to make headway.

The flooding “caused material damage to around 100 homes”, the Somme departement’s préfecture said in a statement.

It added that firefighters had responded to 83 calls.

Earlier this month, a 57-year-old woman was killed in a mudslide in Courmelles, around 100 kilometres south of Sailly-Laurette.