Weather in Southwest France: Verdict on Winter 2012-13

Snowdrops at Beaulieu
Snowdrops at Beaulieu

I could sum up this winter’s weather in one word. But it’s not repeatable in polite company, so I’ll try to do it in a more measured way. The SF (Statistics Freak – my husband) is the brains behind the figures. In addition to his monthly analysis, he produces an annual assessment of the four months November to February.

Every month I post an update on how the weather has been in our corner of southwest France, based on the statistics we have kept since 1998. To see the other weather posts, please click on ‘Weather’ under the Topics tab in the right-hand sidebar.

Everyone is thoroughly fed up with this winter. Had it not been for a brief sunny truce towards the end of February, we would all have been slitting our wrists by now. It’s been grey, gloomy and damp – but not particularly cold, although it has snowed at least seven times since 1st January. Apparently the elderly country folk have been saying it would snow seven times and it appears they were right. Once we are into March, snow is a rare event, although not unknown.

Overall assessment of winter

A quick reminder of our subjective weather assessment: we assign each day a plus if it’s fine, a minus if it’s bad and a zero if it’s indifferent or we can’t decide. This is the 15th year for which we have kept these statistics.

This winter (Nov-Feb) was definitely the worst over that period. Twenty-three percent of days were pluses, 27% were zeros and 50% were minuses. So, half the time it was miserable weather. The only year that comes close is 2009-10, which had fewer pluses (22%) but also fewer minuses (48%).

On the chart below, the bar marked 15 is this winter; the bar marked 16 is the average. The yellow part represents the minuses, the red the zeros and the purple the pluses (sorry, I can’t seem to get these charts to reproduce clearly on WordPress).

Winter weather 2012-13
Winter weather 2012-13


Our rainfall stats go back to August 2004. Since January 1st, we have had above average rainfall: a total of 217.5 mm compared with the 138.6 mm we would normally expect on average (i.e. 57% more). It has rained on 34 days compared with the average of 21 days.

On the chart below, the purple bar is the actual, the red bar is the average.

Rainfall 2013 to date
Rainfall 2013 to date

For the four winter months, the totals are 384 mm compared with the average of 291.1 mm for that period, i.e. nearly a third more than average.

So it’s been a wet winter. And we needed the rain. But perhaps not all at once.

Frost nights

Because it has been damp and not very cold we have had fewer frost nights than we would expect. To date, we have had 35 frost nights; last year in total we had 45 and in 2011 and 2010 we had 57 and 58 respectively. We normally get a few in March but, even so, it’s unlikely to add up to the tally of recent years.

Here’s a dicton (saying) for March:

Février remplit les fossés, mars les vide. (February fills the ditches ; March empties them.)

Since rain is forecast later in the week until at least the middle of next week, this seems unlikely.

Despite all this, the signs of spring are there. Buds are appearing on trees and shrubs; the celandines were flowering in the warm sunshine on Sunday afternoon; and I saw the first violets of the year, demurely bending their necks near the hedge I was clearing and miraculously escaping being trampled upon. The cuckoo arrives in a few weeks’ time, with the rest of the summer visitors hot on its tail. They might regret it to start with but we don’t.

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Hi… I found you through Floss’s link to violets in Toulouse… and will look forward to dropping by some more. We have ahouse in Caunes, 20 mins north of Carcassonne, and were there during the February freeze of 2012… lost mimosa trees and a couple of palms in those -12 temps. best wishes J.


    • Hi, Janice,

      Thanks for stopping by. I will have a look at your own blog when I have a mo. We must have passed through Caunes several times on holiday since we stayed at Bize-Minervois several times before moving here. Feb 12 was terrible. We don’t have mimosa here – too high and cold – but many people we know lost olive trees here (they’re not really indigenous at this altitude). We have been here for 16 years and the winters seem to be getting worse.


  2. Hello! I found you on a search for articles in English about Toulouse violets, which are the subject of my post today – I put in a link to your last year’s post, which I hope is OK. I then popped back to read more – we’re near Toulouse (unsurprisingly) and still have full ditches here. I am very anxious about my hibernating (or drowned) tortoise – only time will tell how he coped with the exess water. Other than that, we are enjoying today’s warm temperatures and hope for some more spring days, with no more Vent d’Autan for a while!


    • Hi Floss,
      Nice to “meet” you and thank you for the link and the kind words on your blog. I still haven’t managed to get to the Toulouse Violet Festival after nearly 16 years in France but it’s something to save up.
      I hope your tortoise makes it through the winter. We were in Montauban today, dressed for winter and were much too warm!


  3. The weather gets more and more extreme and will, I think, continue to do so. A friend visiting last night from near Valence d’Agen told us they’d had winds up to 130kph! We had wind but nothing like that. Almost hurricane force. Were you affected by it too?


    • It was very windy here for two days and nights but nothing like 130 km, although there were some very strong gusts. You seem to be less prone to the autan where you are.


  4. I saw the first proper clump of violets in what passes for our lawn yesterday – lovely. I’m very happy for the grass to be scruffy if it’s got flowers in it.


    • Our “lawn” will never be anything but scruffy – full of moss and bare patches. But every spring it’s full of violets, cowslips, orchids etc so I’m happy to put up with it.


    • Yes, it has gone on and on. And not a lot of sunshine. The snowdrops are at the Abbaye de Beaulieu not far away by a river. They don’t grow well chez nous up here for some reason.


  5. Hi Vanessa,
    Tell your husband I love his statistics and charts. As a psychology student, I dertested stats, but love to bsee someone else revel in them!!
    Another great trip to France for me, thank you as always.
    It is lovely to read spring is in the air, and you will have your own roses to smell soon.
    Cheers and beers as they say in Australia!


    • I did and he was flattered, thank you. I did several jobs where dealing with stats was necessary, although I’ve never been that comfortable with them. The past two days have been very windy and spring has retreated again. But it’s going in the right direction.
      Can’t think of a salutation that rhymes with ‘vin’!


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