Snow in Paris

Snow painting the entrance to the Musée de l'Armée
Snow painting the entrance to the Musée de l’Armée

It doesn’t snow in Paris very often, and when it does, we see the flakes falling but nothing accumulates on the ground. Paris, although it is at the same latitude as the northern-most parts of the US, has a mild, temperate climate similar to Seattle. The relatively mild winter weather is both because of its position in the European land mass and due to the influence of the Gulf Stream on the weather of northern Europe. The Paris urban area is always a couple degrees centigrade warmer than the surrounding areas. This often spares the city from effects of cold weather even when it produces snow in the suburbs. Typically, the temperature here in winter is in the 40-45 °F range. Freezing weather is rare.

Thus it was significant when 12-15 cm (5 or 6 inches) of snow fell in Paris Tuesday night, turning the streets, the parks, and the building tops white. It was the biggest snowfall in Paris since 1987. No one from a snowy winter climate would be impressed with the magnitude of the storm, yet for Paris, the snow creates two effects: it renders the city quiet and magical and it turns city services into chaos.

No shoveling on rue Cler
le Malabar
Not much doing at Le Malabar

About a year ago I purchased an Apple Watch, which has a couple of fitness programs I use, Nike Run Club and the Activity App. These drive me nuts because I have goals every day to stand up often enough, burn enough calories through movement, and to get enough minutes of exercise. It’s relatively easy every day to stand up enough and to get 30 minutes of walking or running, but on days when I don’t run it’s difficult to get the 550 calories of activity. It usually takes about 90 minutes of walking to get there. Oh – and the watch can’t detect when you are doing pushups or squat thrusts, so you can’t achieve the goal by going to the gym. It bugs me not to reach my goals, so every day there is this reckoning.

Eerie quiet in the snow on the Champs de Mars
Eerie quiet in the snow on the Champs de Mars
rue de Belgrade
All is quiet along rue de Belgrade

Tuesday night at 10 pm I still needed about 125 calories, so out I went into the snow storm. I stuffed my 35mm camera into my coat, put up my hood, and walked around. Every once in awhile I stopped to take a photo in the swirling snow. Hopefully I’ve captured some of the calm, the quiet, and the mess. If you click on the pictures you can see a larger version.

Underfoot in the snow, Paris becomes magical. The snow gives a different look to every familiar scene, and the weather keeps most people away, so especially at night the streets and public spaces are lightly trafficked and sometimes deserted. The normal noise and bustle becomes quiet and serene. No one moves quickly. Traffic slows down. Everyone proceeds carefully, looking for solid footing, except the kids who revel in the sudden chance to have a snowball fight.

slushy rue Saint Dominique
Not much activity on slushy rue Saint Dominique
Garden out our apartment window after the snow
Garden out our apartment window after the snow

All this calm belies the inability of the city to cope with even a minor snowstorm. No one has even a shovel. In walking extensively through the city streets, I saw one small green city truck with a snow blade, pushing a narrow path up a busy street. Most streets were eventually cleared by the grinding of the slushy snow under wheel and gradual melting. Curbside there were slush and deep puddles everywhere. Merchants and the City spread salt and sand to improve traction along the sidewalks of the main streets, but other than a narrow path near the doors to the storefronts, the slush and snow remained as a hazard out to the curb. Flights were cancelled. Metro trains and the bus service stopped running. The Eiffel Tower was closed. The city forbid large trucks from using the highways and encouraged people to stay home. Hundreds spent the night in the airport or in a train station. I stopped short of trying to achieve my calorie goal.

By Thursday there was sun but still freezing temperatures. I could sense the extra strain on our apartment’s heating system in the colder weather. Some sidewalks became passable, some almost clear. Others remained slushy and slippery.

The flood waters are subsiding

Snow and ice on Voie sur Berge Rive Gauche
Voie sur Berge Rive Gauche still packed with snow and ice
Snow capped Le Zouave wears his life jacket
Snow capped Le Zouave wears his life jacket

Down by the river the walkways were thick with ice and treacherous. At Place Saint André des Arts I nearly fell several times walking across the slippery brick surface. The flooding that surged into Paris a couple weeks ago seemed to be subsiding, though the roads and walkways beside the Seine are still covered in water. The Crimean War statue called Le Zouave, the city’s unofficial flood gauge under Pont de l’Alma, was outfitted with a life vest. Though the water level looks about 2 feet lower than it was at its peak, perhaps the citizenry still fears for Le Zoave’s safety as this new storm moves through.

Champs de Mars in the snow
Champs de Mars shows no willingness to give up the snow after 3 days.

The days are getting longer. Soon all this will pass and spring will be here.



Add Yours
  1. Gabrielle Gaylord

    I so enjoyed reading your beautiful narrative of a snowy, quiet Paris. I felt like I was there walking through the magical stillness. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and eloquent words. I LOVED it!!!

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks Gabe! Hope you and Jim are making it through the Poulsbo winter. I’ve seen some photos recently where the weather looks good.

  2. Chuck Gerstenberger

    Great description and pics! It would have been fun to experience it in person, but your narrative is the next best thing!

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks Ardis! Hope you are doing well. Brenda showed me a photo at Coffee Oasis I think, and you looked great. Gayle sent me a note as they were passing through Paris letting me know that there were big delays at the airport. The photos she posted from Barcelona showed blue skies down there.

  3. PK

    When ever I see Le Zouave in flood stage I can’t help but be reminded of the diddy…”oh no, it’s up to my toe. Oh, gee, it’s up to my knee,. Oh sigh, it’s up to my thigh….

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks PK, now how will I get this out of my head? I think things are getting better for Le Zouave these days. Let us know when you are headed this way.

  4. Maureen Meyer

    So good to hear of you and Paris again! Being raised midwesterners, we know a thing or 2 about sloshing about in freezing rain/snow/ice! It was magical walking with you – thanks for sharing. The photos are fantastic as always – you have a gift with photography, and we all do when you share! Hugs to you both ! Maureen

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks Maureen – it’s good to hear from you! Hope life is treating you well and that the Seattle rains have subsided.

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