2020 Gloria, Ajaccio, the Cévennes and Alex

While 2020 will be remembered by the whole of humanity for the global Covid-19 epidemic, it is also rooted in the memories of many people in the Mediterranean Arc due to four successive weather events that marked this extraordinary year. In January, Storm Gloria struck, while in June, sudden floods hit some parts of Ajaccio (see p.86). In September, rivers at the foot of Mont Aigoual caused major flooding and in October, heavy rains from Storm Alex triggered flash floods in the hills behind Nice.

Storm Gloria flew in on 22 January 2020 and battered the coastlines of Occitanie, PACA and Corsica.

Apart from the gusts of wind that caused direct damage it also triggered storm surges and sizeable wave trains that can flood coastal areas.
Coasts are honeypots of human activity where tourism infrastructure or holiday complexes and are especially vulnerable.
Ever since Storm Xynthia and the Faute sur Mer disaster, in the Vendée, on 27 and 28 February 2010, coastal flooding has risen up the public authority agenda, in terms of land management.

Seafront homes at Racou Beach,
Argelès-sur-Mer (66), once again
overcome by the waves and sea foam.
Photos: BRGM*

Storm Gloria generating storm waves that batter a sea wall in Sète (34), sending spray high into the air.
Photo: Occitanie Regional Council.
The storm, combined with heavy rain, also caused rivers to burst their banks, such as the Aude here in Carcassonne, on 23 January.
Photo: Jean-Marie Aversenq, SMMAR* EPTB* Aude.

Torrential rain in the Cevennes

On 19 September, unusually heavy rain fell on an area below Mont Aigoual. Valleraugue (30) topped the charts with 720 mm of rain in 24 hours, 360 mm of which fell in just 3 hours. While it is noteworthy, this cumulative rainfall record falls short of even higher figure recorded in the same area in 1900, when 950 mm fell in 10 hours.

The biggest floods were in the upper catchments of the Hérault and Gardon de St Jean rivers. They caused huge damage to roads and two people lost their lives

The swollen Hérault River at Mas de Corconne, between St André de Majencoules and Sumène on 19 september.
Photo : Vincent Lhermet

The raging Borgne, a tributary of the Gardon de St Jean river on 19 september.
Photo: Anthony Kantok

Exceptional flooding in the Alpes Maritimes

On 2 October, while Storm Alex battered Western Europe, heavy rain fell on the foot slopes of the Mercantour mountains, behind Nice. The highest cumulative rainfall recorded was 500 mm in 24 hours, at St Martin Vésubie.
Two tributaries of the Var River (the Tinée and the Vésubie) and a coastal river (la Roya) became gorged with water and caused unprecedented levels of destruction. In this rugged landscape, the rivers burst or eroded their banks, damaging or completely destroying more than 1,600 homes and over 35 km of roads. Eight bridges were washed away, while in places, the rivers totally reshaped their floodplains.
One month later, eight people were confirmed dead while eleven were still missing.
The Vésubie River caused huge damage at St Martin de Vésubie (where the Madonne and Boréon meet to form the river), Roquebilière, Lantosque and St Jean la Rivière.

The height and speed of the water rose sharply where the river passes through narrow, rocky gorges while elsewhere, it severely eroded the soft rock riverbanks formed by ancient glacial moraine deposits. In places, the riverbank scouring washed away several dozen metres of land, uprooting everything in its path and sweeping it away. Here, at St Martin Vésubie, floodwaters from the Boréon River sliced through a house from the inter-war period, while another came within a few metres of suffering the same fate.

Photo Bernard Cardelli DDTM 06
Again, at St Martin Vésubie, the Boréon River also destroyed a police station building
Photo: Florent Adamo, CEREMA*
Further downstream, Roquebilière bore the brunt of the floodwaters, like here in the town’s industrial estate where a penstock (high pressure pipeline) from the hydro plant was completely unearthed.
Photo Bernard Cardelli/DDTM 06

Meanwhile, the Roya wrought havoc on Tende, St Dalmas de Tende, Fontan, Breil sur Roya and all the way the sea at Ventimiglia.
As with the Vésubie River, the whole area, which is connected to the coast by a narrow road corridor was completely cut off. Only a constant stream of helicopters and the intact railway line, built on an embankment, provided a link to the outside world for some weeks.

Business premises totally destroyed at St Dalmas de Tende
Photo: Florent Adamo – CEREMA*

At Breil sur Roya, muddy floodwaters from the river buried these cars parked alongside the church in the Place Biancheri.
Photo: Florent Adamo – CEREMA*

As with areas further down the valley, Tende saw bridges and sections of the RD 6204 road that links the town to the coast, washed away.
Photo: Florent Adamo – CEREMA*

https://www.youtube.com/embed/zLmVWBNBY3g?feature=oembed https://www.youtube.com/embed/NNZlJI-y5dU?feature=oembed


2019, from Perpignan to Nice

1900, 1907, 2011, 2014, etc Autumn 2019 once again heralded a series of “Mediterranean episodes” throughout the Mediterranean Arc region.It began with Marseille, the Aude, the Pyrénées Orientales and especially Hérault which were all in the firing line on 23...

read more

October 2018, the Aude strikes again

On 15 October, almost 20 years after the disaster of 1999, the Department of the Aude once again experienced major flooding. At Villalier, the RD 620 road was cut off by the Orbiel when it flooded. Sadly, a truck driver lost his life.Photo: Sébastien Gominet/IRMA*. 14...

read more

2016, Corsica

Corsica is a well-known and popular holiday destination but is no stranger to the risk of torrential floods. The island’s sharp, steep relief combined with heavy rainfall so typical of the Mediterranean climate, lends itself to impressive flash floods that rush down...

read more

October 2015, deluge on the Côte d’Azur

Following 2 days of heavy rain, a powerful, but very localised thunderstorm struck the area of Cannes on 3 October, cascading down in a highly built-up area. The surface runoff that followed was hugely destructive, killing 20 people. Small coastal rivers, such as the...

read more

2014, a repeat of 1907, or 2011?

2014 was particularly trying for South East France. In January, the Var was again affected by severe flooding, as had been the case in 2010 and 2011. A house engulfed by floodwaters from the Real Collobrier, at Collobrières (83) on 19 January.Photo: Collobrières Town...

read more

2011, a second wave in the Var and elsewhere

Similarly to 1907, The French part of the Mediterranean Arc experienced a series of acute rainy periods that spread throughout the area. Beginning on 12 to 15 March, the rain fell especially on the Aude, Tarn and Hérault.On 1 to 5 June, it was the turn of PACA and in...

read more

June 2010, major new flooding in the Var

Having already experienced heavy rains in 2009, in Sainte Maximime and Cogolin on 18 September and 22 October respectively, theDepartment of the Var was hit by major flooding in 2010 which threw plans for the forthcoming tourist season into turmoil. Serious damage to...

read more

September 2002, record-breaking floods in the Gard

In late afternoon on Sunday 8 September 2002, torrential rain began falling on the Gard Department as well as parts of neighbouring Vaucluse and Ardèche. It was the start of a major “Mediterranean episode”By evening, all the rivers in the area (Gardon, Cèze, Vidourle,...

read more

November 1999, the Aude

Rainfall on 12 and 13 November 1999 was exceptional not only in terms of its extent but also by its length and intensity. It spread to the Tarn, Pyrénées Orientales, Hérault and especially the Aude, where cumulative rainfall in 24 hours reached colossal proportions...

read more

November 1994, the Var River

In autumn 1994, torrential rain swept across South West France. Starting in the Cévennes and Languedoc, it reached the Alpes de Haute Provence and Alpes Maritimes by 5 November.All rivers in these areas, such as the Asse, Verdon, Durance, Esteron, Loup, Siagne, Roya...

read more

September 1992, Vaison la Romaine

Four years after the spectacular images of flooding in Nîmes, France awoke dumbfounded by pictures of the Ouvèze unleashed on Vaison la Romaine (84) and its floodwaters submerging the town’s Roman bridge.In just a few hours, the storm dumped 300 mm of rain on the...

read more

October 1988, Nîmes again

The underground rivers, or Cadereaux, of Nîmes had been quiet since 1963 but reawakened with astounding ferocity on the morning of 3 October 1988. An extremely heavy thunderstorm unleashed some 400 mm of rainfall in just a few hours on the Plateau des...

read more

November 1963, the Ardèche and the Gard

Novembre 1963, l’Ardèche et le Gard In 1963, two major weather events hit the Departments of the Ardèche, Gard and Hérault. Firstly, on 3 August, a severe thunderstorm caused the Doux River to breach its banks at Lamastre (07), washing away the Retourtour bridge. In...

read more

September and October 1958, the Gard

Two new major floods caused the biggest loss of life in the 20th century in France, since the Tarn disaster of 1930. The fiercest of these floods happened on 29 September and was triggered by heavy downpours in the Cévennes (429 mm in 48 hours at St Jean du Gard).35...

read more

June 1957, the Guil in the Queyras

The French Alps are prone to what is referred to as the “Retours d’est”, or easterly rain-laden weather fronts that spill over from the Italian side of the Alpine chain and, subject to temperature, can bring snow or rain. In June 1957, downpours peaking on 13 June...

read more

1940 the Aiguat* in Catalonia

10 years after the floods in South-West France, Catalonia was next to experience a major event. It occurred between 16 to 20 October 1940,in political circumstances that hid it from national news coverage. On the French side, the Tech, Têt and Agly river valleys were...

read more

March 1930, the Tarn and the Agout

The entire South West of France was hit by unremitting rain combined with snowmelt in late winter, which led to one of France’s deadliest floods of the 20th century. The flood was especially lethal in the Tarn river valley, particularly downstream from the confluence...

read more

1907, repeat flooding

In 1907, the entire French part of the Mediterranean Arc experienced a series of powerful, devastating floods in 1907. Five major floods hit various areas killing at least 25 people. The Departments of the Gard and Hérault were the first to be flooded from 2 to 28...

read more

September 1900, the Cévennes

While 1900 is mainly remembered for extreme Cévenol episodes that hit the Gard and Lozère, floods extended virtually throughout the Mediterranean Arc (Vaucluse, Aveyron, Hérault, Durance Valley, etc.) and as far as Spain and Italy.The rains triggered a major flood of...

read more

September 1890, the Ardèche pushed to the limit

The flooding that hit the Ardèche river catchment* on 23 September 1890 still strikes a chord as the rive’s record flood. Gorged with continuous rainfall that began in the evening of 19 September, it reached a peak on the 22. After a brief lull, the rain returned in...

read more

June and September 1875, nothing but water!

A scene of utter destruction in Toulouse.Repeating events in the Rhône Valley in spring 1856, a very wet June compounded by snowmelt from the Pyrenees fed floodwaters that engulfed Toulouse on 20 June and reached their peak on the 23. Maréchal Mac-Mahon, French...

read more