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It’s official. 2011 was the hottest year in France since 1900, beating previous record holder 2003. The average temperature of 13.6 degrees C was 1.5 degrees higher than ‘usual’. This resulted from a warm spring and a warm autumn. Summer was actually quite disappointing with July being colder than normal.

The warm weather has continued into winter. This is the first in the six winters we’ve spent here when the lakes haven’t frozen over before Christmas. We’ve had practically no snow and that’s very unusual too. A couple of daffodils have even poked their heads out of the ground, three months earlier than in previous years.

Is this a sign of climate change, or just a natural variation? It’s too early to tell yet, but two hottest ever years within eight years of each other could be indicative of generally climbing temperatures. We’ll have to see what happens over the next decade.

The warm year meant that crops ripened early and many plants produced another flush of flowers. A lot of wild birds and animals managed to squeeze in an extra brood of babies. Our swallows had three sets of youngsters this year. That’s amazing, considering that in May 2009 ago most of them were killed by the blizzard in May. Maybe it’s Nature’s way of redressing the balance.

The hottest ever recorded temperature in France was 44 degrees C in Toulouse in 1923, while the coldest is -31 degrees in Chamonix in 1905. (Worldwide records are 58 degrees in Libya in 1922 and -89 degrees in the Antarctic in 1938.)

There are generally reckoned to be seven climate zones in France and they’re shown nice and clearly on this map.  The zones are:

  1. Climat Océanique
  2. Climat Semi-Océanique
  3. Climat Méditerranéen
  4. Climat Semi-Méditerranéen
  5. Climat Continental
  6. Climat Semi-Continental
  7. Climat Montagnard.

Generally, the océanique and semi-océanique zones are wet and fairly mild, the continental and semi-continental have hot summers and cold winters, the méditerranéen and semi-méditerranéen have hot summers and warm winters, and the mountain zone, well, that’s techncially imprévisible i.e. it will do what it wants! However, you tend to get a lot snow in winter.

Here in Creuse we fall into the Climat Semi-Continental zone, but this year so far haven’t had the usual brutally cold hiver that we’d expect. But there’s still three months of winter to come and that could all change …