When the wind blows, what’s it called and what does it bring?

We clear the air

For a northern European, apart from the sunshine, the oddest part of the weather in our patch of France is the wind. The reliably wet westerlies that dominate the maritime climate of the UK and much of Scandinavia are replaced by an assortment of vents that can jump out of the sky at any moment. Here is our blow-by-blow account of the winds of the South of France.

Wind swept

Le Mistral

The most talked-about. A cold and generally dry wind that has an average speed of 50km/h with gusts that can exceed 100km/h. The mistral blows down the Rhône valley before invading Provence. It comes from the northwest at Marseille, then due west as it reaches the Var. Its effects can be felt as far south as Corsica. The Esterel mountains to the west of Cannes are said to protect the eastern Côte d’Azur from the worst of the mistral, which according to legend blows for 3, 6 or 9 days. The strongest winds occur in the winter months. Want some warning? Look on the weather charts for a cold front crossing all of France from the northwest to the southeast, then hang on to your hat.

La Tramontane

This violent, cold wind from the north that can feel chillier than its temperature when it hits a warm region. Like the mistral, the tramontane (tramontana in the Nice area), blows hardest in the colder months. Occurs generally when a high-pressure system has installed itself over Spain/the Azores as a low pressure builds in the Gulf of Genoa and a cold front crosses France from north to south.

Le Levant

Generally warm and moderate in strength, the levant is an east wind that brings much cloud and rainy conditions to the Côte d’Azur. Most common at the end of autumn and the beginning of spring. By the time this wind reaches Provence proper, most of the moisture has gone and it is known as the levant blanc.

Le Marin

Occurring mostly in autumn and spring, the marin blows from the southeast on to the Mediterranean coast and brings rain. It’s a warm wind that can be violent, especially in the coastal mountain ranges, where it can be dangerous and chaotic in its direction. Called le marin blanc when it fails to bring rain. Usually occurs when a low-pressure system over Spain coincides with an anticyclone over the Alps.

La Lombarde

Varies in direction from southeast to northeast, and blows across the Italian frontier into France. More common the further north you go in the Alps, this wind is known for its violent gusts. The Foehn effect means the lombarde brings rain or snow to the Italian side of the mountains, but is dry by the time it descends the French slopes.

Le Grec

This goes by a variety of names in our region – grécal, grégal, grégau, grégou. A cold, dry wind from the northeast blowing right through the Riviera and Provence. This wind can bring freezing conditions in early spring. When it reaches the Mediterranean, le grec picks up moisture and can be responsible for snow right down to sea level. Coincides with a low-pressure system over the western Med.

Le Libeccio

A hot, dry wind that blows from the southwest on to the Côte d’Azur and Corsica, often producing violent blasts in the northeast of the island, with thunderstorms.

Le Sirocco

Distinctive and pretty rare, but once experienced never forgotten. The sirocco blows from the south in summer, invariably hot and dry. It brings with it scorching temperatures, also the fine red sand particles from the Sahara desert that stain our cars and buildings. Caused by high pressure over the Balkans coinciding with a low-pressure system stretching from the Balearic Islands to North Africa.

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