If you’ve ever been to Provence, it is very likely that you have experienced the Mistrals. This is a cold wind that is legendary in the provincial region and normally blows in from the north or northeast. I have felt its presence at a top speed of 80 km/hr! Ouch! I’ve been out in it in the winter and, believe me, when a freezing gust hits you, everyone outside becomes instant statues. It has a bite to it that is so hard you can’t move! I’ve even seen it knock over small children. (I have to admit that’s a funny sight and yes, I do laugh when it happens- so sue me).
When the Mistrals are blowing, it normally lasts for about a week. Legend has it that they blow for either 3 days, 6 days or 9 days. I’ve been told by the French in this area that if you get to day 4 and they are still blowing, then you know you have a least 2 more days. If you get to day 7 and they are still blowing, you know you have at least 2 more days!
The worst is when the Mistrals come and it’s raining. Don’t even bother taking an umbrella with you. They won’t do a dang thing to help keep you dry. It’s so hilarious to see people out and about trying to hold on to their umbrellas and getting soaking wet and cussing up a storm. Then all at once a big gust will come and their umbrellas flip up and break! During the winter when walking around town there are trashcans full of broken umbrellas after a winter storm combined with the Mistral. It‘s a total crack-up!
The crazy thing about the Mistrals is that when they are blowing and it’s not raining, the sky is so clear and luminous that you can see for miles. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the most beautiful color imaginable. Unfortunately, a day or so after, the sky turns back to its usual haziness.
Sometimes the Mistrals can blow from the west. When this happens the air is not as cold and it only affects the Rhone and Cote d’Azur areas. This type of Mistral only last for a couple of days.
The Mistrals, as bothersome as they can be, are actually very important to the climate here in Provence. They are the reason why this area has so many sunny, clear days. In fact, I have watched the weather reports and it can be raining in every other area of France, but the provincial region will have sunny, blue skies thanks to the windy days.
The downside to this is that in the summer there is an increased risk for fires here. It is already the driest region in France, but add to it the Mistrals and the two together pose a real threat of devastating the area. This happened in the summer of 2010 right near where I live and work, just before I arrived. From my office window I can see the devastation the fire left behind. It actually jumped the highway! Now, where thousands of trees once stood, there is only charred landscape.
I can’t say I’m a fan, but the clear, blue skies and moderate temperatures in the spring and fall sure are a pleasure. Once fall passes, however, I gear up. Winter is going to be mighty cold.
Remember, if you’re visiting and are “lucky” enough to feel the effects of the Mistrals and rain at the same time, NO umbrella. Just wear a scarf and jacket with a hood and call it a day. I swear you’ll stay drier and you’ll save money, too!