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Land and Resources, Climate

dry wind, oceanic climate, northeastern France, cool summers, air masses

The climate of France is generally temperate with three major variations: oceanic, continental, and Mediterranean. The climate of any particular region of the country is largely determined by the dominant of these three influences in the region, although elevation and other local conditions are also important. In general, the climate of France is well suited to agriculture.

The oceanic climate prevails throughout much of the country, especially in the north and west, where westerly winds from the Atlantic Ocean bring mild and moist conditions. These winds, charged with moisture, produce cool summers, mild winters, and year-round rainfall. The rain usually comes in the form of a slow, steady drizzle. Overcast skies are common, but snow and frost are rare. Paris, for example, receives 650 mm (26 in) of precipitation annually, with rain occurring an average of 188 days each year. The average daily temperature range in Paris is 1 to 6C (34 to 40F) in January and 13 to 24C (55 to 75F) in July. The oceanic climate fully dominates the west coast. Brest, in Brittany, has an average January temperature range of 4? to 9?C (39 to 47F) and an average July temperature range of 12? to 19?C (54 to 67F).

The continental climate has a pronounced influence in northeastern France. Winds and air masses coming from the east, over the great Eurasian landmass, bring little moisture and more extreme temperatures. In winter these air masses bring cold weather, and in summer they bring heat. The eastern city of Strasbourg, for example, has an average January temperature range of -2? to 3?C (28? to 38?F). In the course of an average winter the temperature in Strasbourg is below freezing for 80 days, and on at least 20 days snow is recorded. But the summers in Strasbourg, which average 13? to 25?C (56? to 77?F), are hot and often oppressive, with heavy precipitation during summer thundershowers.

The Mediterranean climate holds sway over regions of southern France, with the strongest influence felt in areas lying within 160 km (100 mi) of the sea. Winters are mild and moist, although much of the precipitation comes in short showers. Summers are hot and rainless. The Mediterranean city of Marseille, for instance, has an average daily temperature of 2 to 10C (35 to 50F) in January and 17 to 29C (63 to 84F) in July. Average precipitation in Marseille is 550 mm (22 in) annually, with rain occurring an average of 95 days a year. Occasionally, a cold, dry wind, called a mistral, blows down from the north, through the narrow Rhone-Saone trench valley, and out onto the Languedoc Plain. The mistral is strongest and most frequent in the winter and spring and can temporarily bring chilly temperatures to the Mediterranean shore.

Severe climates are found only in the mountains. High in the Alps and Pyrenees, winters are long and snowy, sufficient to support ski resorts. In several places in the Alps, remnant glaciers survive.

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