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The Climate of, and Weather in, the Languedoc:   Wind:    The Mistral.

Languedoc Winds: The Tramontane from the north-west, the Cers from the West or South West, the Sirocco from the south, the Autan (blanc and noir), from the south-east, and the warm marine Marin wind from the Mediterranean. The Mistral usually develops as a cold front moves down across France piling up the air in the Alps before spilling over the top and rushing down the Rhône valley between the Alps and Cevennes at speeds of up to 95mph towards the French Riviera and the Gulf of Lyon. In the winter the wind pours down the Rhône valley in an icy flow that can seem relentless. It can last a fortnight in winter, but it's also common in spring, and occurs less often in Summer. In Provence the Mistral blows as often as 100 days of the year, gusting to force 10 and above. Marseilles and St.Tropez generally take the full brunt of this cold, strong wind as it reachs the sea. It does not usually affect the Roussillon or Languedoc, apart from the area around the Rhône delta - the famous Camargue.

A complex set of conditions gives rise to a Mistral, but in essence it is a kind of föhn wind. When a high-pressure system sits over the plateau of the Massif Central, and a low-pressure system sits over the Mediterranean Sea, the cold mountain air will flow down the pressure slope, accelerating as it roars through the gap of the Rhône valley. You can see the Rhône valley clearly on the relief map on the right - it runs north-south in between the two big mountain ranges, the Massif Centrale to the west and the Alps to the east.

Locals claim that a sudden feeling of dejection or even depression sweeps through them just before the Mistral comes. Once the wind arrives, depression gives way to headaches and irritability. In Provence it is widely believed that the Mistral always blows for an odd number of days. The name "mistral" comes from the Occitan (Provençal) word for "master". The wind masters the population, knocking people off balance physically and out of their minds emotionally (Remember the Mistral in Jean de Florette). The Occitan (Provençal) name of 'le vent du fada', translates as "the idiot wind".

A piercingly clear sky accompanies the wind. In the Vaucluse, in northern Provence, they claim that it is possible to see Corsica from the summit of Mont Ventoux during a Mistral. Off the coast, sea temperatures have generally dropped noticeably by the end of the first day of a Mistral. At sea, sailors fear the deadly combination of the wind and the poor visibility caused by spume whipped off the wave crests.

The name of this wind is also the surname of one of the greatest French poets, who wrote in Occitan and won the Nobel prize for literature in 1904: Frederic Mistral.


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Weather map.
Southern Winds: The Mistral