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Explanation and Forecast Weather France

One of the major reasons for moving to France is the weather. Although weather is generally better in France than in the UK, due to France's unique geography there is tremendous variation from one area to another. For example, the south-east of France has almost 50% more sun then the extreme north of France and the north-west has twice as many rainy days as the south-east. Consequently, when buying your French property, the choice of region can determine whether you spend most of the year in cold, wet and dark days or in warm, dry and sunny days. This section discusses the key patterns of French weather and regional variations.

If you are just looking for the forecast, click on France Meteo.

 Amount of Sunshine  

For many people, the most important weather factor is the amount of sunshine. The following map shows the hours of sunshine per year typically found in each region of France.

The map shows number of hours of sunshine per year. Areas in red have over 2250 hours of sunshine per year; pink is 2000 to 2250 hours, green is 1750 to 2000 hours, blue is under 1750 hours of sunshine per year.

For comparison purposes, the average annual sunshine in England is 1436 hours, in Lille (a northern town in the blue region of the map above) it is 1639 hours and Toulon (near the Mediterranean coast) enjoys 2899 hours; more than double the English average.

Please note the following points:

  • The map figures are a general average. The actual amount of sunshine varies from year to year.
  • The map shows broad patterns for large areas. There may be substantial local variations. For example, in mountain valleys there may be substantially less sunshine then shown. Likewise there will be differences between south-facing hill-faces and north-facing. All such local variations are ignored due to the difficulty of representing such local variations.
  •  The sunshine regions are hand-drawn based on weather station results. Consequently, the borders are only approximate.
 Eastern France (excluding south-east)  

The east of France (except near the Mediterranean) has relatively cold winters and hot summers, with moderate amounts of rain. This is know as a 'continental climate'. It has more snow than anywhere else in France (except the Pyrenees mountains) and consequently has more winter sports than elsewhere.

 South-east of France  

The weather in the south-east of France is determined mainly by its southerly position and the presence of the Mediterranean. This regions has the mildest winters in France (only the west-most edge of France is comparable) and the hottest summers. There are more hours of sunshine here than anywhere else in France (with one exception).

There are fewer rainy days here than in any other region of France. However, when it does rain, it tends to be heavy. Consequently, despite the infrequency of rain, the total rainfall in inches is similar to the rest of France.

Vegetation in this corner of France is relatively sparse and consists mainly of semi-arid plants. This is due to the combination of the infrequent rainfall, low humidity and the warm climate. Sun-worshippers often find this attractive, feeling that it adds to the atmosphere of the hot and dry climate. Herbs and aromatic plants are common, making much of this region pleasantly perfumed.

 Western France  

The weather in the west of France is determined largely by the moderating influence of the Atlantic ocean. This produces mild winters and summers which are warm but not excessively hot. This mild weather is particularly pronounced near the coast and adds to the attraction of this area.

The amount of sunshine in this area is average for France, with the exception of a small area around La Rochelle (about halfway down the coast). This area has an exceptional amount of sunshine, comparable to the Mediterranean coast of France.

 Mountain Areas  

Within France there are three main mountain areas: the Pyrenees in the south,  the Alps in the East and the Massif Central in the centre of France (these are shown map at Topographical map of France). Mountains are colder than the surrounding areas; for each 100 meters of altitude one loses over half a degree degree Celsius. This may not seem much, but there are numerous houses for sale at approximately 800 meters of altitude, which corresponds to about 5 degrees lower temperature than at sea level. Mountain valleys are often foggy but as one travels up the mountain one rises above the fog level. The exact height of the fog level varies from area to area.

In addition to having their own weather patterns, mountains also affect neighbouring areas, in particular by redirecting winds. As winds travel over the mountains the higher altitudes turn the moisture into rain, so the windward side of the mountain tends to be wetter than the opposite side.

 Key Weather Factors  

For most people the three most important weather conditions are temperature, amount of sunshine and amount of rain. The following table (based on statistics from the UK and France national weather bureaus) compares the weather in England (average for all of England rather than any individual city) to that of two cities in France.

City

Sunshine

(hours)

Rain

(days/year)

Temperature

(July – avg. max.)

Temperature

(January – avg. min.)

England

1436

131

20

1

Lille

1639

177

22

0

Toulon

2899

87

28

6

This table illustrates two interesting points:

  • The climate within France varies widely. Toulon has almost twice as much sunshine as Lille and less than half an many rainy days. It has milder winters and hotter summers.

  • French weather isn't always better. Although the weather in France is generally much better than in the UK, there are exceptions. For example, while Lille has slightly more sunshine than England it also has more rainy days and approximately the same temperatures, so moving to Lille offers few advantages in terms of climate. Toulon on the other hand has more than double the amount of sunshine and a third less rainy days than England, with milder winters and summers that are both longer and hotter. If you are planning to live in France only part of the year the differences can be even more extreme; in December you can enjoy three and a half times as much sunshine in Toulon as in the UK (on average).

 Rainfall versus Rainy Days  

If weather is a criteria in determining where you visit or live in France, it is important to consider not only the amount of rain but also the number of rainy days in a year. For example, Toulon and Dijon have exactly the same amount of rain per year (72 cm.) on average. However, Toulon has only 87 days of rain a year while Dijon has 158. This is due to rainfall in Dijon tending to be frequent but light whereas in the Toulon area rain is infrequent but typically heavy. In our opinion, the number of rainy days is more important for most people than the actual amount of rain.

 Other Factors & Micro-climates  

There are a number of other weather conditions that can also be important: wind, humidity, snowfall and fog. Normally these are secondary considerations but in specific cases they can be critical. For example, fog is normally only a nuisance for most people. However, if you are setting up a vineyard you should be aware that it is usually impossible to grow grapes successfully in foggy conditions (the exception being micro-climates where the fog is present only in the morning and burns off by mid-day, which are ideal conditions for the promotion of ‘noble rot’). As another example, if you are buying a remote house in the mountains you should consider whether snowfall and freezing conditions will result in the mountain roads being closed and your being isolated. Finally, some areas of France suffer from extreme wind while others have high humidity (making winters seem colder and summers seem hotter).

Within a small area there can be variations. A south-facing hill will be warmer than a north-facing one. Depending on the prevalent wind patterns, one side of a hill will be more comfortable than another. Bodies of water (lakes and rivers) will influence the immediate area. These differences are relatively small compared to the major influences discussed above. However, in specialised conditions they can be worth considering. In particular, they often explain why one area is very valuable for growing wine grapes (or other fruit) while another area only a few hundred meters away isn't.

 Detailed Weather Information  

Detailed weather information for each part of France and each town in France is available from France Meteo (in particular, I find a useful publication to be "Meteo de la France" by Jacques Kessler and Andre Chambraud, which sells for around 30 euros and provides detailed information across France).

 
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