Snowed In – Again

View from our kitchen door - 10h00

View from our kitchen door – 10h00

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:

View at the back of our house - 10h00

View at the back of our house – 10h00

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.

Collecting precipitation

Collecting precipitation

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).

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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26 Responses to Snowed In – Again

  1. Canehan says:

    One point on your list of necessary things for winter, Vanessa. You mention a well-stocked deep freeze, but unless it’s outside somewhere so in the cold, won’t you need a small generator to power it if the electricity is off for more than, say, 24 hours ?

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    • nessafrance says:

      Yes, you’re quite right and this is an additional issue to consider. Fortunately for us here, we have never been without electricity for more than 4 hours during a snowy episode. I’m touching wood hard while writing this. However, people who live in parts of France where mega-dumps of snow are habitual and long electricity cuts are normal might well need to consider this. Whatever your circumstances, don’t leave the freezer door open for more than a few seconds when removing food!

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  2. Kate Swaffer says:

    Hi Vanessa,
    I’ve been a bit slack reading the various blogs I follow, but here I am now reading yours trying to catch up. As always, the pictures and your beautiful way with words takes me to your part of the world without the long flight and expense!
    I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like being snowed in like that; Australia is such a sifferent country, with snow only in a few parts of its enormous land mass, and where I live, Adelaide, never has snow. We mostly see it as a fun destination for a skiing holiday.
    My various friends all over the UK have reported more snow this year than for many years too, and they have been snowed in like you.
    What can I say, other than “Restez au chaud”.
    Kate

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    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Kate,
      I know what you mean – there are so many interesting blogs that it’s hard to keep up and also retain a semblance of normal life! Thanks for your kind words about mine.
      You are not missing anything never being snowed in there. The first day it’s pretty and you think, ‘That’s fine as long as we can get out tomorrow.’ If it goes on longer than that it just becomes a real nuisance. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about getting to work/school etc. I really feel for people who have to struggle through this.
      Merci – peut-être je devrais vous dire ‘restez au frais’!
      Vanessa

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  3. The mind boggles one one also thinks that EDF supplies the UK too, I hope they can keep up with the demand. I am constantly suprised by the mindset of those who don’t cater in advance for cold weather snaps. We always took it as ‘read’ that one bundled on the jumpers, lit the fires (and stoves) and planned in advance for wood and ‘plug in heaters’. My ex-tenant gave me so much grief about our ‘now sold’ house in the UK when he received heating bills and found the house chilly in the ‘freezing snaps’ and looked at me as if I had two heads when I suggested lighting the fires. Unbelievably I have just received a complaint from the man who has just bought it now that Britain rests at zero degrees. Do people really buy large old uninsulated properties without thinking through reality? I feel so reassured by reading all these comments that there are sensible, realistic ,forward thinking people about – even if they have all moved to France!!!!

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    • nessafrance says:

      When we moved here, I must admit I was surprised that it could be so cold, although as I said in the post we had very little snow during our first few years. It has made up for it in recent years. Our property isn’t very well insulated but it’s hard to do more to it than we have. In fact, my husband recently calculated its energy efficiency and it was much better than we thought. We still spend a fortune on heating, though.

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      • I suppose it’s the larger land mass that contributes to the cold, but I wonder whether England too is seeing colder winters. I don’t remember it snowing much in my childhood, yet in the last 4 years there seems to have been snow every year there. Obviously living in france now it is difficult to quantify. I have trouble on the whole insulation business (except for the roof obviously) since I am a sucker for high ceilings, architectural mouldings, original windows and original skirtings. I’m always on the lookout for clever detailing that retains original features and yet improves energy efficiency. How clever is your husband knowing how to calculate energy efficiency – when I buy, I shall have to hire him to do some calculatioins for me too!

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      • nessafrance says:

        We definitely have a more continental climate down here than in the UK. But I think these cold winters go in waves. In my childhood – somewhat longer ago than yours, I suspect – I remember snowy winters. And in the mid-eighties there was a succession of very cold and snow-bound winters – 87 was the year they had minus 27C down here. We’ve been spared that so far, touch wood.

        According to my husband it’s not difficult to calculate energy efficiency. It’s the number of KwH you use per year (which you can get from your utilities bills) divided by the surface area of your property. Apparently, the so-called experts can differ wildly in their assessment of the same property!

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  4. Evelyn says:

    Here in the Lot river valley, we received about half the amount you did. No snow on the road in front of my house this morning, but it’s a glare of black ice. Only a few cars have passed, and it appears the bus is not running. Glad I can stay inside today! I love how obsessive SF is about his record keeping!

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    • nessafrance says:

      We were at the extremity of the orange alert and down by the river perhaps you get less anyway. We are not going anywhere – after last night’s frost (minus 8C) the black ice is probably lethal.

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  5. You’ve got our snow I think. We’ve had very little this winter, most unusual. Rors is highly indignant at us not having been snowed in yet. He’ll feel short-changed if we get through the winter without having to miss at least a few days of school due to snow stopping the school buses running. Our first year there was no school transport for 10 days so that set a high precedent!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Up till yesterday, we had very little and it’s unusual for us to have more than you. Rors is obviously cheesed off but there’s still plenty of winter left to stop the school bus running!

      Like

  6. susancarey says:

    There’s snow in Amsterdam too so it’s almost Europe wide. Lovely pics, Vanessa!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      There’s a very cold snap coming down from Scandinavia but it’s forecast to get much warmer over the weekend. I hope so since our heating bill will be going through the roof, in more ways than one.

      Like

  7. amelie88 says:

    Coincidence, it snowed here in New York last night as well, though not as much as it did in France (though we have gotten just about the amount in pictures you showed here on many occasions and far, far more!) The snowplows were out this morning because we got one or two inches–which is nothing for us. In fact, we got about the amount of snow in your pictures right after we were hit by Hurricane Sandy and without power for 11 days! Unfortunately, the snow also meant there were train delays this morning going to New York City so my train was packed (finally just started a new job this week!) with no room to sit. My dad also thought it would be a great idea to walk to the train station–he almost missed his train which I would have found hilarious since I was not happy about walking to the station (it’s a good 25 minute walk and it was cold and raining!).

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    • nessafrance says:

      The pictures I took were at 10 a.m. – it had snowed a lot more by the end of the day. Today the sun is out and it looks very pretty, but we’re not going anywhere. Both times I have been to New York in wintertime, there has been a blizzard!

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  8. Catherine says:

    Aargh! After I finally capitulated and went to an auto ecole to access a compulsory dual control car for my driving test at 15h50 in Gramat this afternoon, the exam was cancelled because of the !!@%?!!! snow. I have spent about 400 euros trying to convert my New York license to a French one so far, and now I will have to arrange another car for mid March. I might be out of the country in March, so the exam then will be postponed to mid May.The saga continues….

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    • nessafrance says:

      It has come at a very inconvenient time. I had to cancel a short trip to London because of the snow. I think you’ll have to write a book about your driving licence experiences.

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  9. Sue Whatmough says:

    Glad to hear you were prepared. So important these days. We just can’t rely on being able to get to the shops, uninterrupted electricity and communication. It’s not difficult to think ahead, just wiser. Good luck! It’s probably our turn next.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Temperature is well below zero today so we are stuck fast for a few days. I’m surprised you didn’t have any snow at the same time but I think it was in fairly narrow corridor.

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  10. Kellie says:

    My kids were thrilled to wake up to snow this morning! I felt a little less homesick as snow and power outages are common where Im from….but, we are officially snowed in. No one has been by to plow so we are waiting for Saturday to warm up and melt the snow (fingers crossed). I think it’s so odd that people’s houses are not better insulated here. Especially since cold winters are common. My husband and I are interested in rocket mass heaters. If we were not renting, we would have built one already….uses very little wood and heats like a charm. Im wearing 3 layers at the moment hoping that we dont lose our power.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Don’t hold your breath waiting for the snow ploughs. If you’re lucky it will be a farmer who does it eventually, as it is around here. In past times, they didn’t bother with insulation, since they generally lived on one floor with a large fire. Sometimes they had animals on the floor beneath, which provided warmth. And when some of the houses were renovated, they were originally restored as holiday homes, so they didn’t bother too much about insulation. I’ve never heard of a rocket mass heater – will have to Google it; sounds as if we could do with one of those.

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      • Kellie says:

        What a gorgeous sight this morning with all the white glistening against the blue sky!
        My husband made a sled from his work materials, wedi board and a heavy duty contractor bag! It would have been more sensible to shovel snow yesterday than play in it but we are all happy , warm, and fed. Amen to that.

        Heres a site for the rocket mass heater that has videos and designs:
        http://www.richsoil.com/rocket-stove-mass-heater.jsp

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      • nessafrance says:

        Thanks for the link. I will get the resident technical expert (my husband – definitely not me) to check it out.

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  11. pfornari says:

    Wow, Vanessa, I hope you are well stocked up – I wouldn’t fancy venturing out on the roads…they have even forecast snow here in Rome for Friday!!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      We can’t get out of our drive this morning, let alone down our lane, so I think we are stuck for a few days. Fortunately, we have enough to eat.

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