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Spring frost fears after mild winter

Storms lashed the Atlantic coast and floods devastated the Var, but this winter has been the third mildest in 50 years

THIS winter will be remembered for the conveyor belt of Atlantic storms that battered France’s west coast and the floods that devastated the Var, but it has also been the third mildest in 50 years.

The average temperature in France throughout December, January and February has been 7.4 degrees celsius - 1.7 degrees higher than normal, according to latest figures.

It ranks alongside the winter of 1994-95, and is only beaten by the winters of 1989-90, when the average temperature was 7.7 degrees, and 2006-07 (7.5 degrees).

On January 9, an early morning temperature of 18 degrees was recorded in the Basque Country.

The last mild winter, when temperatures were above normal, was 2007-08.

But the warm, wet winter is worrying for farmers.

Agricultural expert Jean-Claude Bevillard told La Croix that it’s still too early to say whether 2014 will be a bad year for farmers: “Any autumn sowing in flooded areas will probably be damaged and may need to be replanted. And waterlogged soil will delay work in the fields.

“However, even more than the winter, the spring weather will be decisive.”

With trees blossoming already, fruit growers fear a late frost, which would devastate their crop.

In Languedoc-Roussillon, apricot trees are already flowering - and growers are concerned. According to accepted wisdom, fruits with stones, such as apricots, need 1,000 hours of cold to grow properly. Growers in the region have recorded only 600 hours and fear the harvest may be compromised, even before any late frosts.

Meanwhile, in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, a frost has been recorded on only four days, as opposed to the expected 30 - and plants such as rhubarb are a month ahead of normal.

Warm, wet air coming in from the west has been blamed for the lack of frost - there have been no frosts recorded in Nice since 2012, while Paris has had just three frosty days this winter out of an expected 18, and Lyon 19 instead of 33.

The mild winter has come at a price. Record levels of rain have been recorded in the south and west.

In Nice, 557mm of rain has been recorded since December 1, beating the previous record of 539mm from the winter of 1978-79. In the same period, Brest recorded 677mm of rain. That’s the same amount, in two-and-a-half months, as Paris usually records in a year, and only 10mm less than 1994-95’s record.

Winter storms battered the Atlantic coast. Penmarc’h, Finistère, endured 14 days of storms, when wind speeds exceeded 100kph, while the high seas and storm surges flooded coastal areas and eroded the coastline.

Meanwhile, in the Alpes-Maritimes, rock falls, caused by excessive rainfall, killed two people in a train and two boys in a holiday home.

It may be hard to recall after two months of wind, rain and cloud, but December was exceptionally sunny. In Toulouse, residents basked in 140 hours of sunshine, while Parisians enjoyed 113 hours, and people living in Pau soaked up the rays for 147 hours. Even Ambérieu, in the Rhône-Alpes, enjoyed 98 hours - compared to its December average of 46 hours.

Photo: van Ort

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