BEFORE AFTER. Visualize the extent of the drought in France from space

France yellowed. After several months of very little rain in many regions of France, the soil lacks water to that extent. As of 27 July, around 89 departments are thus affected by at least a prefectural decree restriction of certain uses of water. The month of July 2022 will be even “probably the driest month of July” never measured since the beginning of the studies, in 1959, according to Météo France. A drought visible from space, as shown in these satellite images taken in late July 2021 and late July 2022.

A France parched by months without rain

All of France experienced a particularly dry year. “These images show the direct consequences of the earth’s drought on the vegetation”, explains Christian Veil, climatologist at Météo France. The period from April to July 2022 was the second driest on record, just behind the year 1976 on the same dates, according to data from the forecasting institute. The month of July alone is even on track to break all records, as a result of a particularly dry winter and a very warm spring.

To measure drought, Météo France uses a soil moisture indicator. It depends on the amount of rain and the temperature. But in 2022 it rained much less than usual. “All months in 2022 except June have a precipitation deficit”, explains Christian Veil. The phenomenon worsened further in July, with only “8mm rainfall on average from 1st to 25th July, a big deficit”.

The impact on the vegetation is thus particularly visible in comparison with the more rainy summer of 2021. Especially since the summer of 2022 is particularly hot, with a heat wave in June and another in July.

“With climate change and rising temperatures, more evaporation is happening. So we could have more and more dry soil in the summer, but also the rest of the year.”

Christian Veil, climatologist

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Atlantic coast

The difference between 2021 and 2022 is more marked in the northern part of New Aquitaine, rather than in the southern part of the Landes forest. “Drought puts low vegetation, shrubs, small trees in trouble”explains Christian Veil. “Forests are less sensitive to surface drought because their trees have deeper roots that they can use to draw water”, explains the climatologist. But another risk threatens the forests. Very dry soil accelerates the spread of fires, explains Météo France. As with the forest fires in the Gironde. The satellite image, taken on July 18, 2022, also captured the smoke and charred soil from the Landiras fire.

The Riviera

In this traditionally very dry region, the contrast to the summer of 2021 is a little less strong. But this month is still drier than usual, with several departments around the Mediterranean where it hasn’t rained (almost) a drop. This is the case in Var or den Bouches-du-Rhone, where Météo France counted only one millimeter of rain on average in July. Christian Veil also explains the drought in the Paca region with a particularly dry winter: “It snowed very little in the southern Alps. In the spring, the rivers were not supplied with water.”

island of france

In Île-de-France, the effect of the drought is particularly noticeable on the prairies. The contrast over a year is striking, especially as the summer of 2021 had been very wet in the northern half of the country. “In 2021 the humidity indication was above normal, in 2022 it is well below normal”notes Christian Veil.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

In the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, the comparison between July 2021 and July 2022 is quite spectacular. The deep green has given way to a straw yellow. “The bushy vegetation, relatively low, typical of the territory, must suffer especially during the drought”explains Christian Veil.

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