Orange Storms

Basically, this year the European weather system is screwed up. The normal weather patterns are a tad inverted. England, traditionally unsettled and changeable, has enjoyed what I believe is the warmest May on record. We certainly had three weeks of stunning weather and my mind began comparing it to the blissful summer of standpipes in 1976. We have heard from Francine’s pen friend in Bergen, Norway, that they are suffering a ban on barbecues in their gardens, so dry is it. Bergen is normally wet so frequently that they put brave faces on it with phrases like, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Our area of Spain, the Costa Blanca, is known as the second driest part of Spain and was good when we were there but not as good as one would normally expect it to be. So what of France?

Yesterday evening we finished our visit to La Brenne with a doozy of a thunderstorm. Fortunately, it was late enough in the day for us to have done everything we wanted and to shelter in good ol’ Guillaume enjoying the light and percussion show outside. Today we moved on to Fanjeaux and our favourite dairy sheep farm. We weren’t actually booked in but we had informed the site owners, now friends, that we would be arriving today for two weeks. An Englishman’s word is his bond, etc. etc., so, we hitched up and set off on our 485km drag south.

Half way down the route and three quarters of the way down our tank of diesel, we called in to an autoroute services to top up. It must just be one of those trips; on our way down from Neufchatel-en-Bray to La Brenne we first chose a services disrupted by external building works, this time we chose one with internal building works in progress. We ”enjoyed” a coffee and baguette to the almost constant staccato accompaniment of a drill.

As we enjoyed our noisy coffee, a French TV news station showed scenes of devastation caused by flooding in the Alsace region. They moved on to more, widespread similar situations. We were informed that there were oranges warnings of orages [storms] in 28 departements. How poetic the French language can be – Oranges Orages. OK, we’d say amber warnings between yellow and red but the message was clear, the meteorological situation over France was serious. A weather map graphic appeared on the TV. Warm air from Africa was moving up from the south and turning west above France. Simultaneously, cold air was sweeping down from the northern Atlantic and turning east over France. In the middle of France, the two air masses, one war and one cold, were colliding. France was caught in a meteorological pincer movement. Net result: deluges. The 28 departements affected cut a swathe down the centre of France from north to south finishing at the Mediterranean, yes, just where we were heading, in the Languedoc.

Our journey was actually quite pleasant; not sunny, exactly, but dry. We did pass through a few brighter areas and also put up with a spit of rain or two but nothing untoward. Finally we arrived at Toulouse and made our turn east towards the Med. Toulouse was actually quite bright. We began the final 70kms to our destination. After 35kms or so bright gave way to gloom and a black, threatening mass darkened the horizon ahead and just a little to our right. Ahead and just a little to our right was exactly where Fanjeaux lay. Brilliant.

We took our autoroute exit with just 10kms to go and turned south directly towards the black mass. Fanjeaux is a hilltop village that was just ahead of us. Mordor would have looked positively Elysian by comparison. A few gouts of rain hit the windscreen. That was a few seconds before the heavens opened and we were towing Guillaume through a cloudburst. Still, Guillaume could do with a good rinse. We knew the hill top church at Fanjeaux was ahead of us, we’d been able to se it originally, but it had become obscured by darkness. The twisting road up the hillside towards Fanjeaux was more like a river. Trucks descending the road threw modest bow waves into our path. At the hill top we turned towards our destination farm and campsite.  Thunder cracked whilst lightning tried but failed to brighten the sky. The 1km single track road approaching the farm was crossed by unmapped streams washing soil off the surrounding fields. There’s a deep dip in the road before the final ascent to the farm which somehow remained clear. The mapped stream draining the gulley, normally a trickle, was now a torrent, though. We’ve seen some wet in France but never anything on this scale.

I haven’t looked at the Jet Stream flow recently but I did when we were in Spain. It certainly sweeping much further south than usual. We did, after all, spend 41 hours aboard our return ferry in the wake of Storm Felix because of it. Doubtless, it is still the culprit. Had we not been “booked in”, we’d probably have done something else; possibly even, stay put for a while and see if the situation improved before heading south.

In continuing rain accompanied by occasional peels of thunder, we pitched Guillaume. These conditions were a new experience for us. Somehow I got him levelled using our ramp and fought my way through  bushes and overhanging dripping trees to the electricity supply to get him hooked up. It didn’t matter, I was already soaked through. Once I stepped out of the car I was wet so a waterproof became pointless. An old boy scout trick surfaced in my mind and I stripped off my shirt. Bodies dry better than do clothes. Francine, smart enough to put on her waterproof immediately she stepped out of the car,  gamely did her bit fetching water.

One journey of our tow car around our pitch left water-filled ruts in the soft, saturated soil. The weather forecast shows a largely disturbed two weeks, the duration of our stay, thoug hthe coming weekend holds the promise of something brighter. Fingers crossed.

We could be in for an interesting time.

Posted in 2018 France

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