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WEATHER

What do France’s weather warnings actually mean?

France’s national weather agency Météo-France regularly issues warnings for potentially dangerous weather. But what do the different weather alerts mean, and what should you do if there's a warning?

What do France’s weather warnings actually mean?
Recent snow and ice has prompted weather warnings in France. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Since 2001, France’s national weather agency Météo-France has issued twice-daily weather Vigilance maps, at 6am and 4pm, which offer an easy-to-see département-by-département guide to conditions over the following 48 to 56 hours.

Residents in départements coloured green on the map can relax. That colour means that forecasters expect no particular immediate weather concerns to worry about.

The system has three further levels – yellow, orange and red – which indicate different alert levels based on forecast weather conditions.

As well as the colours, simple and easily recognisable graphics may be added to show what weather conditions to be aware of: a thermometer indicates high temperatures, raindrops forecast heavy rain that could lead to flash flooding, a windsock indicates strong winds, and so on.

Yellow

In areas where yellow alerts are issued, you should be aware that more intense weather conditions are possible that may be locally dangerous for anyone practising outdoor activities – think locally heavy storms, strong winds, such as the mistral, that sort of thing.

People are expected to pay a little more attention to local weather forecasts and take preventive measures if they live in exposed areas or belong to a group at risk.

It’s worth noting that even if there’s “only” a yellow warning in place for your département, weather conditions could vary. What’s a stiff breeze in lowland areas, for example, could be more of a problem in exposed hills.

Orange

Yellow weather warnings are not routinely reported beyond regular weather bulletins, but orange ones often make local, regional and sometimes national news.

The recent cold spell in France has seen numerous départements placed under orange alerts, as snow and ice made travelling conditions treacherous.

Anyone living and working in départements under an orange weather warning is urged to be “very vigilant”. 

“Dangerous phenomena are expected. Keep informed of developments and follow the safety advice issued by public authorities,” Météo-France says.

During orange or red weather alerts, préfectures and town halls will use local and social media to issue regular advice and updates on staying safe based on the conditions at the time.

Certain protocols will be triggered to ensure vulnerable people are more closely monitored and kept safe – for example in a cold snap cities might open up extra homeless shelters while during a heatwave there will be services available to the elderly and ill. 

Red 

The highest possible weather alert indicating a possible danger to life – most recently seen when heavy rain caused serious flooding in the Pas-de-Calais département in the far north of France, but also at the height of the heatwave last July when temperatures exceeded 40C in parts of the south of the country.

These are a lot more rare than orange warnings and always make national news.

It means that the weather could pose a significant danger to the public, who should not take part in any activities that could put them or other people at risk. 

Under this warning level, “Absolute vigilance is required,” warns Météo-France. 

“Dangerous phenomena of exceptional intensity are expected. Keep yourself regularly informed of developments in the situation and strictly follow the safety instructions issued by the public authorities.”

Préfectures and town halls will use local and social media to issue regular advice and updates on staying safe in those weather conditions and will likely also be taking practical action such as making home visits to elderly or vulnerable people or opening up crisis centres (in case of flooding or wildfires where people have to be evacuated) or ‘cool rooms’ during heatwaves.

You should follow the news and social media closely in case an order is given to evacuate, roads are closed or events are cancelled.

The declaration of a red alert gives local authorities wide-ranging powers to manage the risk – for example in snowy weather lower speed limits can be imposed, during heatwaves events can be cancelled or organisers ordered to make changes to the way the event is managed. 

Text message alerts

The other thing that happens when a red alert is declared is that the FR-Alert system swings into action.

This emergency alert system isn’t only used for weather – it’s intended for big things such as an accident at a nuclear power plant, an invasion or another pandemic – but it is also deployed whenever there is a red weather alert.

Unless you have opted out, a text alert will be sent to your phone if you are in an area where a red alert has been declared – the text is accompanied by a very loud alert, even if your phone is set to silent mode.

It is sent to all phones within the affected area, French or foreign, and if you are travelling it will sound when you enter the alert zone (so if you’re on a train expect to hear dozens of alarms all going off at one as your fellow passengers all receive the alert).

READ ALSO How does France’s emergency alert system work?

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For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

The ‘French values’ that foreign residents must respect

People requesting French residency cards must now sign a contract promising to 'respect the values of the French Republic' - from sexual equality to the Marseillaise via proselytising, here's what you're actually agreeing to.

The 'French values' that foreign residents must respect

Several sections of France’s new immigration law are now in force, including the new ‘contract to respect the values of the republic’.

This requirement, which is now in effect, will apply to most foreigners in France – from students and workers to those with the ‘visitor status’. There are very few exemptions. 

READ MORE: French immigration law: New carte de séjour rules now in force

On a practical level, the contract is just another piece of paper that you need to sign when you’re applying for or renewing a residency card – and refusing to do so means that your permit will not be granted.

The law is largely intended to target foreigners who have become radicalised – such as radical Islamists – and those who represent a serious threat to public safety, but the requirement covers anyone who needs a carte de séjour residency card (with the exception of those few exempt groups listed here).

But what are you actually agreeing to?

The contents of the contract are meant to focus on respect for “personal freedom, freedom of expression and conscience, equality between women and men, the dignity of the human person and the motto and symbols of the Republic as defined in article 2 of the Constitution”.

Below is the full text (in French) and you can also download it here;

The new ‘Republican contract’. Screenshot from the Journal Officiel.

The first segment reads (in English):

“France has welcomed me onto its soil. As part of my application for the issue or renewal of a residence document, I solemnly undertake to respect the principles of the French Republic defined below.

“I undertake to respect personal freedom, freedom of expression and conscience, equality between men and women and human dignity, the motto and symbols of the Republic within the meaning of Article 2 of the Constitution, the integrity of French borders, and not to to use my beliefs or convictions as an excuse to disregard the common rules governing relations between the public services and private individuals.”

Then come seven ‘engagements’ that the person signing the contract would agree to, including things like promising to not discriminate based on sex, to respect people equally regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to respect symbols of France including the national anthem and the flag.

READ MORE: La Marseillaise: All you need to know about the French national anthem

The seven engagements

Commitment no. 1: Respect for personal freedom

  • I promise to respect every individual’s private life and the privacy of their home and communications.
  • I promise to respect each person’s freedom to come and go and not to hinder in any way their ability to communicate with others.
  • I promise to respect each person’s freedom to choose their spouse.

Commitment no. 2: Respect for freedom of expression and conscience

  • I promise to refrain from any act of proselytising performed under duress, threat or pressure, with the aim of making another person adhere to my values, principles, opinions or convictions, my religion or my beliefs.
  • I promise not to obstruct, by coercion, threat or pressure, any person’s expression of their values, principles, opinions or convictions, religion or beliefs.

Commitment no. 3: Respect for equality between women and men

  • I promise not to adopt any sexist attitude and therefore not to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of sex.
  • In any public office, I promise not to disrupt the running of the service and to behave in the same way towards public servants, whether they are men or women.

Commitment no. 4: Respect for human dignity

  • I promise to respect the laws and regulations in force designed to protect the health and physical and mental well-being of every person.
  • I promise to respect the equal dignity of all human beings, without discrimination of any kind, whether that be based on their origins, their opinions or religion, and to respect the sexual orientation of each person.
  • I promise not to create, maintain or exploit the psychological or physical vulnerability of another person, regardless of my relationship to that person.
  • I promise not to undertake any action likely to compromise the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of minors, or their health and safety.

Commitment no. 5: Respect for the motto and symbols of the Republic

  • I promise to respect the motto of the Republic, which is “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”.
  • I promise not to publicly insult the national anthem, the “Marseillaise”, or the national emblem: the tricolour flag.
  • I promise not to provoke such reprehensible acts.

Commitment no. 6: Respect for the territorial integrity of France

  • I promise that I will not challenge – by actions likely to disturb public order, by inciting such actions or by participating in foreign interference – the authenticity of France’s borders and the sovereignty it exercises over its territory, both in mainland France and overseas.

Commitment no. 7: Respect for the principle of secularism

  • Within public buildings and offices, I promise not to challenge the legitimacy of a public official or demand that the operation of a public service or public facility be adapted on the basis of my own religious beliefs or considerations.
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