« Reconstruite au 16 siècle et flanquée d'une haute tour Renaissance à lanternon, la cathédrale [de Blois] fut presque entièrement détruite en 1678 par un ouragan... »
“Rebuilt in the 16th century and flanked by a tall Renaissance bell tower, the [Blois] cathedral was almost entirely destroyed in 1678 by a hurricane...”
The quote above is from the Michelin Green Guide to the Châteaux de la Loire.
Let's hope it didn't happen again last night. I'm writing this on Thursday evening 12/15. Weather forecasts call for a strong windstorm — une tempête or "tempest" — that will hit northwestern France tonight, with gusts up to 85 mph on the coast and 70 mph here in the Saint-Aignan area.
City hall and the cathedral in Blois
The storm is named Joachim. Winter storms like this can be called "hurricanes" in French — ouragans — even though in English the term means a "tropical" storm. According to an article in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro, 22 such storms have "devastated" France since the year 1700. And that doesn't include the one that destroyed the cathedral in Blois in 1678.
Another article I read today says there were terrible tempests in France in January 1362 (not a typo) and on the Toussaint holiday (Halloween) in 1570. The author says that the French government possesses very detailed records of such historical events because the national government was so well developed and centralized under the Old Regime — before the 1789 Revolution. Unfortunately, historians haven't yet done much research using the existing data.
Here's a graphic from an article in Le Figaro.
The latest severe storms in France were the Christmas 1999 ouragan, and the late-February 2010 storm named Xynthia. The '99 storm caused great damage to houses and trees, including in the park at Versailles and on the streets of Paris, and the '10 storm caused severe flooding on the Atlantic coast north of La Rochelle and 50 or more deaths by drowning.
Expect more news on Saturday from Saint-Aignan, where the shutters are all closed tight, all outdoor objects are moved indoors or tied down, and the residents are hoping for the best.