All those people who think that, because we live in the south of France we must enjoy balmy weather all year round, please study the photo above carefully. This is how it was around 10h00 today. It didn’t stop all day and when we last checked we had had around a foot (30 decimetres) of snow.
Our département was one of eight or so that were on vigilance orange (orange alert) from Météo France and will be tomorrow as well. Parts of the Pyrénées were on vigilance écarlate (red alert), which is rare, and were expecting a mega-dump of a couple of metres and avalanches to go with them.
And this is the view at the back this morning:
This is an increasingly common occurrence. When we first moved here in 1997 it barely snowed at all in the winter – maybe a couple of centimetres, which had thawed by lunchtime. Fast forward about eight years and being snowed in became an occupational hazard here. Now, we are snowed in at least twice a year and it happened at least six times during 2010.
Today’s snow was heavy and wet, coming from the south, but they forecast minus 11C tonight, which will fix it like concrete. We spent today shaking snow off the more vulnerable trees, brushing it off the cars so that we have some chance of getting out when it does thaw, clearing it off the internet satellite dish, turning off all the outside taps, making sure the birds are well provisioned with fat balls and stoking up the woodburner. Fortunately, the electricity has stayed on but EDF must be tearing out its collective hair trying to keep France supplied.
Even our pluviomètre (rain gauge) was struggling with a large lump of snow on top. Since the SF is strongly attached to his statistics, there was no way he was going to let x mm of water go unrecorded. So we brought it inside twice and rigged up a Heath Robinson arrangement to avoid losing any precious precipitation. I can report that we recorded 33.5 mm of melted snow today.
Our neighbour Monsieur F, now well into his eighties, says that it was always like this in the winter when he was a boy. The prevalence in the area of houses with slate roofs, from which the snow can slide easily, confirms this. It’s only in more recent years that they have started to use tuiles canales (Roman tiles) in building here, which are less efficient at removing the snow.
Here are a few tips – not exhaustive – for those thinking of buying down here and who don’t realise how cold it can get. The difference between summer and winter is much more marked here than it is in the UK – you could be on difference planets in different seasons:
- Don’t rely on electricity; install a woodburning stove or other forms of heating that are not dependent on electricity.
- Buy in plenty of wood – more than you think you need – well before the winter. Forage for kindling every time you go for a walk.
- Don’t throw out your woolly pullies: you’ll need them. And the thermal underwear.
- Make sure you’ve always got food in the freezer and store-cupboard staples such as rice, lentils, pasta and UHT milk.
- Lay in a good stock of DVDs etc for those long winter evenings.
As they say here, “Restez au chaud” (stay in the warm).
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