The Heat Is Online

Paris Drenched By Heaviest Six-Month Rainfall on Record

This April in Paris a washout

The Boston Globe, April 28, 2001

PARIS - What joy, that sun-soaked first day of April, Parisians and tourists boldly promenading in the streets without umbrellas. Well, not exactly.

Sure, April 2d brought dry, gentle breezes...

But April 3d: Gray skies and a driving rain. The same on the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th...

Ernest Hemingway had it right. It was just another false spring.

The French, of course, do not need Hemingway to tell them that April in Paris is not, as the old song says, all ''Chestnuts in blossom, holiday tables under the trees.'' Locals, well aware that Atlantic winds can quickly turn a warm day wet and cold, prefer to heed the adage: ''Ne te decouvre un fil en Avril - don't take off a stitch in April.''

But this year, even the weather-wisest French have had enough. Months of steady rain have flooded rivers across the country, driving thousands from their homes. Farmers' crops are bogged down after harvests were delayed last fall and planting was delayed this spring. And high waters in downtown Paris have kept tourists from the Seine's fabled quais.

''Rain, six months, without stopping,'' lamented Andre Salaun, a restaurant owner in the Burgundy village of Saint-Valerien. ''I am 59 years old, and I have never seen this.''

Neither had his father, nor his grandfather. It has rained more here in the past six months than in any other six-month period since meteorologists began tracking rainfall in 1878, when Claude Monet was still a young painter.

''One has the impression of being in an autumn that has lasted six months, that doesn't want to end. Temperatures aren't rising, rain doesn't stop falling,'' said Patrick Galois, a meteorologist.

If any place offers rainy day retreats, it is Paris, with its museums, cinemas, and ubiquitous cafes.

But by April, even the most hardened Parisian is looking for the emotional lift of a sunny stroll in the Luxembourg Gardens.And so last week, with farmers' fields waterlogged and city-dwellers' nerves frayed, the French media tried to offer help. Le Parisien paused from daily reports on the plight of the flooded to propose 10 top sunny spots. A graphic design accompanying the list of options - Portugal, Egypt, Turkey - taunted readers with little orange suns and temperatures in the 70s.

The venerable Le Monde, normally more interested in affairs of state, put forth a front-page investigation: ''Why so much rain in France?''

The answer, as Galois and other specialists say, is pretty simple: It's just a rainy year, the most extreme point in the swinging pendulum between wet and dry. Normally, cold weather fronts move in, blocking the wet Atlantic weather systems from moving inland, but this year the cold fronts haven't come, and the rain has. Some soggy cafe dwellers point to this as just the latest sign of global warming. But the professionals say it is too early to tell.

Many here are more concerned about knowing when the wet spell will end. For his part, Galois can only guess at the next seven days, which, he says, don't look good. Beyond that? Well, there's always summer.

And so the French endure, making sure that all this rain does not drown their romantic spirit.

Take, for example, the analysis rendered by Georges-Alain Moatti as he tended his Montmartre newspaper shop the other day. A young woman, offering a bright smile despite the daily drizzle, announced that she would marry in two weeks. Moatti turned from his rain-soaked window and the puddled square beyond.

''Ah, that explains it,'' Moatti said with a smile. ''All the men of Paris have heard your news, and they are crying.''

This story ran on page A06 of the Boston Globe on 4/28/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company