For the past week we have been sweltering in a heat wave. Temperatures have topped 40°C (104°F) at times. We have taken refuge in the swimming pool, which has come into its own at last this year. With these elevated temperatures you normally expect thunder storms to ensue but this hasn’t happened – yet. When they do come they can be very violent here, as we have previously found to our cost…
Blogging colleague Sue recently wrote a very good post about thunder storms, including what causes them and precautions to take beforehand and during. I shan’t repeat what she says but will simply recount a few of our own experiences.
Just as no one tells you how cold it can be here in winter, nothing prepares you for the violence of some of the thunder storms. In the UK, it would never have occurred to me to unplug electronic equipment during a storm. Here, it’s indispensable. Otherwise you risk computers, telephones, TV, video (if anyone still has one) and hi-fi being grilled by the power surge through the cables. If we think there is even a remote possibility of thunder, we unplug everything before going out.
In 1999, violent thunder storms arrived every evening for a week at the beginning of August. One was so powerful that, even after the mains trip switch had shut down, some of our light bulbs shattered. Our neighbour who owned the maison sécondaire nearby arrived a couple of weeks later and was astonished to find shards of glass all over the floor from the broken light bulbs.
Heavy rain, strong winds and hail often accompany these storms. Once, we measured 50mm of rain in 30 minutes. It came in everywhere – through the roof, under the kitchen door, even through the wall between the kitchen and the garage. You can’t do much except put buckets and towels down to catch the worst.
Three years ago I had to go to Paris for the day on business and took the plane from Toulouse. On my return, the sky was black and, as I drove out of the car park, the heavens opened. Alas, it wasn’t just rain but also chunks of ice about 8 centimetres across. I had to stop the car in the middle of the road and wait it out whilst impacts like rocks being thrown hit the car. It went on for five minutes but it seemed like five hours. When I got home I realised the car was pockmarked and the cover of one of the indicators was shattered.
The worst storm we have ever experienced occurred four weeks ago to the day. As we watched the Olympics opening ceremony we realised from the increasingly bright flashes that a storm was on the way. We dutifully shut everything down, unplugged all our electronic equipment as usual and went to bed. A few minutes later a simultaneous flash, bang and fizzing sound coincided with the electricity cutting. The storm was right overhead.
The next morning the extent of the damage gradually unfolded. The lightning had struck the transformer down the lane leaving part of it blackened. To EDF’s credit – and I’ve had reason to praise them in an emergency before – they came out within two hours and fixed it. Alas, that wasn’t all:
- The boiler didn’t work. Our plumber came out that day (thank goodness for 15 years and a lot of work put his way) and found the electronics completely burnt out. Happily, he had the right part and fixed it.
- One of our phones was kaput. This was our fault, since we had carelessly left one of the phone jacks plugged in.
- Most annoying of all, our Internet connection was out. Since we can’t get broadband here we have a satellite dish and a variety of other kit. Two of those bits of kit were also burnt out and it took us nearly two weeks to get back to normal.
We also found later that the impact had blown the lid off a telephone junction box down the lane and blackened the telegraph pole too. Fortunately, our lines were unaffected.
Now, we not only unplug everything but also turn off the mains trip switch in the event of a storm. Although the trip switch should protect the electrical installations from power surges, the impact is sometimes so close and quick that it does the damage during the split second it takes the trip switch to cut off the current.
If you buy a house down here, it’s worth being aware of the considerable damage thunder can cause. I can’t do better than point you again to Sue’s excellent advice about living with thunder storms in southern France.
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