Hotter, drier summers ‘will be the new normal in France’
Climate report says ‘soil drought’ will become a regular concern in the decades to come
May and June were wet and cool, but forecasters expect that summer in France will be ‘hotter and drier than normal’ - and experts have said this will become the new seasonal standard by the end of the century.
The heavy rains in May and June seem reassuring but they did not necessarily compensate for the drier than normal conditions earlier in the year - and the recent storms, while dramatic, have done little to replenish the water table.
Four of the past seven summers - 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019 - have seen temperatures soar way above average in France, while rainfall has been lower than seasonal norms.
There are several types of drought. Meteorological drought corresponds to a prolonged lack of rain. Agricultural, or soil, drought refers to a lack of water in the soil at levels of between 1m and 2m which in turn affects the development of vegetation. Meanwhile, a lack of rain means plants are forced to draw-up more water from the soil, which is then lost through evaporation.
Then there is hydrological drought, defined as abnormally low levels in lakes, rivers and groundwater tables.
Scientists have run a series of simulations that show ‘soil droughts’ will get worse in the decades to come. Using Météo-France climate-prediction models, the experts have argued in a new report that climate change, linked to increased evaporation caused by rising temperatures, is increasing the intensity and duration of soil drought in the western Mediterranean basin over the rest of the century.
Climatologist Jean Michel Soubeyroux, who co-ordinated the report, said: “It allows our societies to better anticipate and adapt. In general, the results of these simulations show a continuous increase in annual average soil droughts in metropolitan France during the 21st century.
“Storms have very little impact on the filling of the water tables; the water runs off and does not infiltrate much and does not recharge the water tables.”
Météo-France’s quarterly weather prediction for the summer says that drier-than-normal conditions are expected for the quarter over the western part of the continent, including France; while over eastern Europe conditions will be ‘near normal’. To the east of the Mediterranean basin it will be wetter than average this summer.