Canicule: the Dog Days of Summer

Stones - barn before

How it was in August 2003

It’s either a famine or a feast. We spent the winter and most of the spring grumbling about all the rain; now we’re taking refuge from the heat. Much of the northern hemisphere is experiencing unprecedented levels of heatwave: notably the UK and Sweden, where forest fires have raged out of control. The technical explanation is that the jet stream has risen too far northwards – having come too far southwards over the winter and got stuck. This is drawing up hot air from the Sahara. Here in France, la canicule has arrived and looks set to continue for the next week at least.

Météo France says that this July is the third hottest on record since 1900. And despite all that rain, our département, Tarn-et-Garonne, is on orange alert – the second highest level – for drought. Because of thunderstorms, we’ve even had slightly more than the average rainfall. The Lot département, just north of us, is on red alert, requiring severe restrictions on water usage.

Rainfall 2018 to date

Even so, it’s not as hot as in 2003, when we had three months of non-stop heatwave from June to the end of August, and temperatures topping 40 degrees C at times. Our lawn turned brown and then dusty. You can see how deserts begin.

Barn - before

More from 2003 – just after we had bought our barn and before we’d started to clear the outside. The trees had turned brown.

Origins of the term

How is la canicule defined and what are the origins of this rather strange term? To be worthy of the name, the weather must be consistently hot for at least 72 hours. The threshold temperatures vary by region of France: in Lille, for example, the values are at least 33 degrees C by day, not dropping below 18C by night; in Toulouse, it’s 36C by day and 21C by night.

The origins of the term are more complicated and date back several millennia. Canicule comes from the Latin canicula, little dog. The Egyptians associated the Dog Star, Sirius, or Canicula, with excessive heat, since it rose and set with the sun between 24th July and 24th August. It was believed to have a strong influence in regulating the levels of the Nile. Canicule is therefore used to designate periods of significant increases in temperature. Hence also the term in English “the dog days of summer”. To mitigate the effects of the heat on the harvests, the Romans apparently sacrificed red dogs.

Sensible advice

Swimming Pool

This comes into its own during a heatwave

This is the French government’s advice in case of canicule, especially for vulnerable people:

  • Drink plenty of water without waiting to feel thirsty.
  • Cool your face and forearms (as a minimum) with water several times a day.
  • Eat reasonable quantities and don’t drink alcohol (huh!).
  • Don’t go out at the hottest times of day and spend several hours a day in a cool place.
  • Avoid physical effort.
  • Keep your house cool by closing shutters and doors during the hottest times and opening them at night and in the early morning when it’s cooler.
  • Keep people informed of how you are if you live alone – and keep an eye on vulnerable neighbours.
  • Keep yourself regularly informed of the weather forecast.

Stay cool!

You might also like:

Dry Gardening
All Aboard le “Moscou-Paris”
Shutters

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About nessafrance

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.
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22 Responses to Canicule: the Dog Days of Summer

  1. Pingback: Five French Weather Phrases | Life on La Lune

  2. Stay safe Vanessa and such an interesting and informative post. I think we are all agreed now that this is our hottest summer in the UK since 1976. Our lawns look like Weetabix! However, our temperatures are considerably lower than yours which sound quite horrific to me. Still not sure how much of this is due to the effects global warming!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks, Melissa. It’s pretty hot, but we’ve seen worse in 2003, when the temperature didn’t drop for three months! It’s gone on longer chez vous than it has here. It’s forecast to break in the middle of next week and then to be pleasantly hot after that.

      Like

  3. Finally notice of water restrictions in la Depeche but not in our river ‘bassin’. No mention of restrictions on house owners, it all seems aimed at the farmers who redirect water from the rivers. I’m always mean with water. I have to dash up and flush the toilets if we have unexpected visitors! 🙂 Ps thanks for link….

    Like

  4. Sorry…corrective text creating nonsense…’cursing the rain’
    ‘Keep drinking…water’

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I always say your site is most informative. Until I read this post I didn’t know our department of lot was on red drought alert! No notice from the Marie and I haven’t read anything in la Depeche. Our commune nudges up against the correze (actually the tip of the hill behind our house) which is on white so maybe no panic hereabouts. The cere isn’t particularly low and we have had some torrential rain in the last few days although it dried up really quickly. Thank goodness to be retired and not have to struggle into public transport or sit in traffic. For the last three weeks I have watched the tour de France in our cool living room and then flopped into our pool. Was it only last month I was using the rain? Bon courage, keep drinking…..w

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Osyth says:

    I think the hardest thing is being in a City when it is so hot. Last August was almost unbearable in Grenoble (which sits on the double alluvial plain of the Isère and the Drac rivers) and is, naturally enough, surrounded by mountains. The contrast with the same temperatures (high 30s-ish) in Cantal was startling. But in neither place were Mozzies much of a problem. That, in itself made such a difference and I must admit, I do love the heat of summer as much as I love the snow and ice in winter 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kiki says:

    Great article – we live nr Paris since April 2008 and it feels as if we had THE worst heatwave every single year…. 🙂 We eat our meals outside, either in a large-ish veranda with wide open doors at both ends which give us some breezy comfort or else on the terrace (late eve) or on one of the two patios (one covered in wisteria), but this year it seems as if we have ‘déménagé’ to the desert. I daren’t thinking of what happens to my huge garden when being away for a few days…. It’s 1 1/2h of watering every second day.
    We are not allowed (and wouldn’t have the means) to have a swimming pool as we sit on an important ‘nappe phréatique’ (water table) on a small hill and we can’t believe that we haven’t been forbidden (yet) to water the garden and wash the cars…. Maybe we have and don’t know about it. Since everybody is away on hols I don’t think anybody would report us 😉
    My only physical efforts these days is refilling my largest glass with lemonade, water, eating tons of fruit and salads and maybe go to get the mail once per day…. it’s about 50m from the house!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Hello, Kiki. Nice to hear from you. One of the things that struck me when we moved here from the UK 21 years ago is the big difference between summer and winter. We never experienced those kinds of extremes in the UK – although they seem to be becoming more common. Here, it can range from minus 18C (the lowest we have seen) to plus 42C, which is a big gap. Apparently, in our département, there are now restrictions on filling swimming pools, washing cars (we don’t bother), and watering gardens. Farmers are also required to take less water for their crops. I don’t know how easy all this is to control, though. We have our own wells, which we use for watering, although even those are forbidden when it hits a serious drought situation. Like you, I am taking it very easy for the moment. The daily trip down to the mail box is about the same distance as yours!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kiki says:

        I have had 50C just outside my veranda, and we are only outside of Paris – it’s insane!
        The weather we had in Torquay was ideal for us. Never under 2C and hardly over 23C…. For the first time in my life I didn’t have hayfever in those 8 1/2 years we lived there.
        We have a well too but are not allowed to use it, it’s over 30m deep and makes a beautiful feature in our garden. Just back from watering garden; the little winged beasts and those jumping from the ground have had their feast, I ALWAYS come back with another 18-20 new bites…. Even wearing socks over long trousers and a foulard over a long-sleeved jumper don’t help….

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Gosh, that’s hot! The weather in the UK tends to be more temperate – although that’s not the case this year. Apparently, it’s going to get even hotter for about 10 days. 40C+ forecast in some southern parts. Keep cool!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kiki says:

        I know – we look forward to it – sun hats, sun cream and generally easy access to cold drinks, cold waters (sea), and ice cream are provided too!

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Ice cream – now that’s something I haven’t had for a while. Your comment has got my mouth watering for some now!

        Like

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