09 July 2010

Thunderstorms and a heat wave

In Saint-Aignan we had two strong thunderstorms during the night. The first one came through at about 11:00 p.m. It was spectacular, with bright lightning and loud thunder, along with a few minutes of heavy rain. It wasn't particularly scary, just exciting.

Then at about 4:00 a.m. I was awakened by a crack of sharp lightning close to the house, and an immediate thunder clap that literally rattled the roof tiles over our heads. We're still getting used to sleeping in the new space upstairs, right under the roof. I got up at 4:15 and went downstairs to make sure the dog wasn't too afraid. She won't come upstairs yet, so she was alone. And she was afraid, I could tell.

I lay down on the sofa for a while, with Callie on the floor right beside me. I kept my hand on her back to keep her calm as the thunder and lightning continued for the better part of an hour, gradually diminishing in intensity here as the storm moved off to the northeast. Then I dozed off.

When I woke up again at 6:45, I turned on Télématin to see the news and weather reports. The electricity promptly flickered off, causing the satellite decoder to reboot itself. That takes three or four minutes, but it had come back on before time came for the weather report. I was glad I hadn't yet turned my computer on.

At about 5:00 a.m., a car drove by, headlights beaming, headed down the hill toward the center of the village. That would surely have been our neighbor the mayor, going to work to make sure there was no damage from the violent storms. I hope there was no damage.

Yesterday the authorities declared an official « canicule », or heat wave, in three areas: Paris and its suburbs; Alsace including Strasbourg and the surrounding territories; and Lyon and the Rhône département where it's located. A canicule means that high temperatures are supposed to be 35ºC (95ºF) or above for three days or longer, with low temperatures around or above 20ºC/70ºF during the same period.

Remember, people don't have air conditioning in France. And they have a deep-rooted, long-held fear of getting ill from the nefarious effects of « courants d'air » — drafts. So they don't go in for cross-ventilation. They — especially older people — tend to close themselves up in their houses or apartments, with windows shut against the hot air and shutters closed to block out the hot sun. Then they suffocate, or get so hot that dehydration becomes nearly inevitable.

Remember also that a lot of older French people don't really believe in drinking tap water — the days when the local water was not safe to drink are not that distant. Or they just forget to drink water. The TV reports are constantly reminding people to "hydrate" themselves. In 2003, thousands of older people died from heat exhaustion when we experienced a canicule that lasted for many weeks.

Walt and I believe in opening the windows wide when it's hot. Our house is almost completely exposed to the hot afternoon sun, and the walls aren't very thick. We lower shutters to block out the sun, at least partially, but not such that no air can get in. It's about 70ºF this morning and very muggy. Now it just started raining again, so we have to close the house back up. At least the place has had a chance to cool down slightly.

Our neighbors across the street — he's 80 and she's about 75 — close their shutters up tight every night, even when it's very hot outside. Maybe their old house, with its thick stone walls, stays cooler than ours does. I hope so. This morning, their cleaning lady is here — I see her car — so I know that someone is checking up on them. They are in good health and very young and modern for their age, anyway.

This weather is supposed to stay with us for the next three or four days. We'll see. It's good for the garden, I think.


  1. Our car said it was 39degrees yesterday, but I always take what the car thermometer says with a punch of salt.

    We saw your first thunderstorm, and very pretty it was from this distance. The second one got us fair and square at about stupid o'clock. Have you tried lying in bed and sleeping while it rains heavily on an incomplete roof?

  2. No, can't say as I have, Simon.

    Well, on second thought, if you count the time back at the end of February when a dozen or so roof tiles blew off our house, I guess I have.

    We got 12 mm of rain.

  3. Oh, and our car thermometer always reads really high too.

  4. I think "courants d'air" are blamed for all kinds of ills in France, with funny stories.
    It is so rare to have thunder storms in SoCal, but they can be so spectacular in France. (You are such a good dad with Calli).

  5. Yes, as Nadege said, you are such a good dad to Callie :) How does Bertie handle the scary weather? I think that my cat used to hide under the bed or couch.

    I didn't realize that thunderstorms were unusual in Southern California -- I guess I had never thought about it. We are having thunderstorms here on many days this summer... sometimes it helps clean out the mugginess, but other times, I guess the saturation of all of the lawns just adds to it. Yuck.


  6. Judy, we lived in San Francisco for nearly 18 years and thunderstorms were a rarity there. I guess L.A. is the same.

    Once, my mother was visiting from N.C. On the TV news, the main report was about thunder and lightning in the Central Valley, a couple of hours inland from S.F. The reporter said he had called his mother, who lived out there, and had been relieved to learn she was okay, despite the thunder and lightning. We thunder-storm-savvy North Carolinians had a good laugh about that.

  7. Here too we are experiencing a canicule. For the past past we have been told not to use the irrigation system by the city and I have to water by hand using a water can ( no hose allowed) . Thus I am praying for some rain.
    Ken, how do you like the new "velux" windows in your room? Are they left opened during the night and what about when it starts raining ?

  8. I should have typed " past month" - sorry

  9. Hi TBeav., I like the vélux windows. They are open all night these days ... except when it rains, or threatens to rain. Then they have to be closed. But they have built-in vents you can leave open even when it is raining.

  10. You would think, after living through a couple of canicules, the French would see the value of A/C.

  11. You're just trying to push my buttons, aren't you, Starman? As I've said, there is no practical way to put A/C in these old houses that don't have forced-air heating already. Well, there are AC unit that are mounted on ceilings or roll-around AC units — people are buying the latter — but I doubt that they are very effective. French cars have AC, by the way, nowadays.


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