Monday, July 12, 2010
Weather in Paris
When dealing with a lack of subject material in conversation, apparently the subject most often brought up is the weather. I am in complete agreement with this. Normally, I end up talking about the weather with three quarters of my clients on tour. It's not just that we can't think of anything to talk about, it's something we all experience, unless living inside an air conditioned bubble. We all have different reactions and preferences, and thus discussing how the weather affects every one of us can give a little insight into our counterpart's psyche, and perhaps establish more of a bond.
Paris is fortunate enough to be blessed with four seasons, and each one of them different. Personally, September is my favorite month out here, as the hot summer days of July and August are fading into the background, the massive summer throngs of tourists start to return to their normal lives at home, and the flowers, as they are replanted at the end of summer, begin to bloom once more, giving the impression of a second spring season.
In this article, I will discuss summer and winter in Paris, as spring and fall are both fairly temperate and similar to what many in North America and Europe imagine of those two seasons.
Though Paris is quite far North, it can get hot out here. To give an idea of its location, Paris is fairly even latitudinally with Vancouver, Winnipeg, and north central Ontario and Québec in Canada. It is one of the northernmost capital cities in the world. But that does not exclude it from getting pretty warm.
In 2008, Paris had just 20 days over the summer that exceeded temperatures of 25 C (77 F). In 2009, we had 40. So far in 2010 (counting today), we have had 22 days that have been at least this warm, and at least half of those have been above 30 C (86 F).
Considering where I grew up in St. Louis, MO. these temperatures do not sound that bad at all by comparison. The weather there in summertime is akin to walking through a swamp inside of an oven. But fortunately for those in the United States, air conditioning is never too far away. If one steps outside for an hour or two, most can return inside to cool off with assistance from central air or an AC unit.
For the most part, that option does not exist in France. Aside from hotels, almost no one has air conditioning. There are a couple of reasons why. First, even though it can be oppressively hot in the daytime, it normally cools down at night, making it a little easier to sleep. Second, many houses or apartments have windows on two opposing sides of the building, which allow crosswinds to pass though and work more or less as a natural fan for the apartment. However, if it is really hot at night as well, you have to find ways to put up with it. Personally, I haven't used anything more than a tiny blanket to sleep in the last month. Many nights I sleep with no covers at all. A wet rag has helped a lot in cooling me off when necessary.
Though it does get quite hot in July and August in Paris, normally it is a very dry heat. When temperatures soar near 30 C, we start to see percentages of humidity drop down somewhere between 25 and 35%, and occasionally even lower. This is about the same as I experienced when I lived in Colorado at more than 6,200 feet (1,900 meters) elevation. This allows the shade to be very refreshing on a hot day.
Paris winters are perhaps some of the most oppressive that I have ever experienced. Temperature-wise, it does not get that cold. Rarely does the temperature plummet below 0 C (32 F). Snow is a rare sight in the city, though last winter was unusual in the fact that it probably snowed 10-12 times. The snow almost never sticks, as the ground temperature is too warm, and when it does, it barely lasts through the day.
Henry Miller, who wrote quite possibly the best book on life in Paris, and one of my favorite books all time, gives a perfect description of what the weather is like in Paris over the winter:
A foul, damp cold against which there is no protection
except a strong spirit. They say America is a country of extremes, and it
is true that the thermometer registers degrees of cold which are practically
unheard of here; but the cold of a Paris winter is a cold unknown to
America, it is psychological, an inner as well as an outer cold. If it never
freezes here it never thaws either. Just as the people protect themselves
against the invasion of their privacy, by their high walls, their bolts and
shutters, their growling, evil-tongued, slatternly concierges, so they have
learned to protect themselves against the cold and heat of a bracing,
vigorous climate. They have fortified themselves: protection is the
keyword. Protection and security. In order that they may rot in comfort. On
a damp winter's night it is not necessary to look at the map to discover the
latitude of Paris. It is a northern city, an outpost erected over a swamp
filled in with skulls and bones. Along the boulevards there is a cold
electrical imitation of heat. Tout Va Bien in ultraviolet rays that
make the clients of the Dupont chain cafes look like gangrened cadavers.
Tout Via Bien! That's the motto that nourishes the forlorn beggars
who walk up and down all night under the drizzle of the violet rays.
Wherever there are lights there is a little heat. One gets warm from
watching the fat, secure bastards down their grogs, their steaming black
When I first moved to Paris in February 2008, I would look at the weather and try to dress myself appropriately for the conditions. However, I found that I was almost always underdressed. My rule now is whatever I think that I should wear outside, add an extra layer. It has not been unusual for me to wear a sweatshirt, a heavy sweater, and a wool jacket when the temperature is still above freezing.
Whenever visiting Paris, make sure to pack accordingly. While you think it might be hot in July, there might be a day where the temperatures dip down to 10 C (50 F) or even lower, and there might be a fluke day in the winter time where shorts and t-shirts are suddenly more appropriate than a winter coat. In sum, expect anything, and perhaps everything.
If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at culinarytoursofparis.com