O Wild (South) Wind – or le Vent d’Autan

Trough of geraniums – casualty of le vent d’autan

For the past three days we have endured the strongest wind from the south that I think we have ever experienced here. Like the fact that it can be minus 15C in the winter, no one tells you about the south wind, le vent d’autan, that can blow for days on end here.

In Provence they have le mistral; in the Languedoc they have le tramontane. Here, we have le vent d’autan. When it dies down, it invariably rains. When l’autan blows it’s warm, even in the depths of winter, since it comes from the south. It starts deceptively gently and then, all of a sudden, blows with an intensity that almost knocks you off your feet. Around Toulouse, it can blow at speeds exceeding 100 km/h. Apparently, in 1916, it was responsible for overturning the Toulouse-Revel train. Normally, by the time it gets here it has weakened a little.

On Wednesday morning it was still and calm here. We set off for a walk with our walking group at a rendezvous some 20km south of here. There, it was already blowing strongly. And you could see the Pyrénées clearly in the distance – that is usually a sign of rain within a few days.

Chairs scattered as if by a sudden departure

The wind intensified during the day. On Thursday and Friday it had attained gale force strength. Despite our precautions, the gusts knocked over and broke three plant pots. One was a terracotta trough on the parapet of our covered balcony, which faces due south. I have never known the wind to knock one of those down – I left it because I thought it was safe. Our plastic watering cans rolled off down the garden. Part of a stone wall collapsed because the tree holding it up swayed around so much. And the aluminium chairs around the table outside fell over. We didn’t feel it was worth righting them until the wind had died down.

Precarious tree

On our way to choir practice on Thursday evening we noticed that a tree down the lane was leaning over the road, supported by a thread on another tree. Over the past couple of days it has sunk lower and we will have to take it down (although it doesn’t belong to us). The lane itself was absolutely covered with leaves and fallen sticks. France Météo issued a severe weather warning for many départements, including ours.

Nonetheless, we’ve been lucky. The lights have flickered several times but the electricity has not gone off – unlike 50,000 other households in Midi-Pyrénées, it seems. We still have our phone lines, unless the aforesaid tree takes them with it when it falls.

Yesterday late afternoon (Friday) the wind dropped progressively but this afternoon  it’s got stronger again. I can’t bear strong winds like this, especially when I am lying in bed at night wondering if the chimney is going to topple through the roof on top of me. There have been a few upsides, though:

  • Barely a single walnut is left on our trees. The wind brought them all down and, since it’s been dry, they are in very good condition. All we had to do was go out and pick them up.
  • Masses of kindling for our fire is there for the picking.
  • The wind has blown the leaves into nice tidy piles in the corners of the garden so we will have less work to do when we want to sweep them up.

So it really is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Wow, I didn’t know about this one, though I experienced the Mistral in my ‘year abroad’ in S. Raphael, and the Tramontane when we were staying at Jill’s in Peyriac de Mer. I loved it, but I imagine it must be stressful à la longue. We used to get red wind in Cameroon – well, it covered everything with red dust. Here it’s either cyclones or nothing!


    • We also get a reddish dust that comes up from the Sahara and coats everything. It’s difficult to get rid of but, fortunately, occurs only a few times a year. This particular episode has gone on for nearly 5 days. Tonight it has calmed down but during the day the wind was still strong. I have not yet dared to replace my troughs of geraniums on the parapet.


  2. I was greeted by this wind when I arrived home from the States on Wed. Wow…it really blew! I lost a couple of roof tiles and it shredded some rattan terrace coverings. The sound of those tiles crashing to the road at 1am was a bit scary! Glad it’s finally stopped; I don’t even mind this morning’s rain.


    • It can’t have been much fun landing at Toulouse in this. We had heavy rain this morning but as soon as it stopped the wind started up again! It doesn’t want to let go.


  3. Oh wow! I didn’t realize that area of France could get that much wind! Though I remember when I studied abroad in Toulouse, there was one day of really intense wind that caused a lot of damage in Toulouse and surrounding areas. Tiles flew off of buildings, tree branches came off, it was actually super dangerous to be walking around outside lest something came crashing down on your head. Even the train service was interrupted! At least you got a lot of walnuts and wood for the fire out of it!

    We’ve been spared in NY so far during this hurricane season (it officially ends November 31st). Praying we make it this year relatively unscathed!


    • October down here can be a time of violent winds. You do have to be careful – we have covered our heads every time we’ve gone outside in the past few days. It’s still blowing tonight – this will be the 4th day, which is unusual.

      I hope you escape the hurricanes in NY this year!


  4. I love listening to wind if I’m inside and all cosy! But then I don’t have a chimney to worry about. We have a strange weather phenomon in NL at the moment, a very fine Sahara sand, blown here from Algeria has coated all the cars in our street. It rains sand a few times a year (apparently) but this time the sand cloud is so huge it can be seen on satellite photos.

    Looking forward to the walnut recipes!


    • We also get the Sahara sand – probably more often than you since we’re closer. It’s a real nuisance. It coats everything and sticks like glue so it’s difficult to remove. The south wind has been so strong the past few days that I’m not surprised you are also feeling the effects in the Netherlands.


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