About this page

Terms that I have heard used by the Météo France in forecasts broadcast on VHF by CROSS (French coastguard).


Preamble

Native English speakers have many advantages in the world community. But they too often let themselves be put at a disadvantage because of their unwillingness (it is rarely inability) to try to learn other languages even when it is to their benefit. I never fail to be amazed at British sailors who do not even try to understand marine weather forecasts when across the Channel (or, even, across la Manche). I can assure you that it worth the effort This page is intended as an aid to those who tentatively switch to Channel 79 or 80 on the VHF. It is simply not the case that all French people speak incredibly quickly. Bon voyage et bonne chance!


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Introduction

Using weather forecasts is important wherever you are and it is easy when these are in English, as is the case around Spain and Italy The French are not so obliging. To help those whose French is basic to non existent, I have compiled a list of the more common terms that I have heard used by Météo France and broadcast by CROSS (French coastguard) on Chs 79 and 80. In public weather broadcasts and in conversation, many other weather terms are used and may be found in Macmillans, the Cruising Association Almanac, RYA booklet G5, the French Livre de Bord and le Guide Marine de Météo France. Good though these various publications are rarely complete.

My greatest problem with French forecasts is that neither CROSS nor Météo France seem to have as standardised vocabulary as is the case in the UK. Sailing in the Mediterranean I heard some words that are not used around Channel and Atlantic coasts of France.. Consequently, these lists are unlikely to be exhaustive. Please send any corrections (including spelling), amendments or other suggestions to Frank Singleton. But, note that I have tried to follow the modern French convention of not using the circumflex and cedilla accents.


CROSS Broadcasts


The French equivalent of the BBC shipping forecast is known as le Bulletin au large and can be heard in broadcasts from Radio France or received by NAVTEX. Parts of the Bulletin au large and warnings (Bulletins Météorologiques Spécials - BMS) are also broadcast by some CROSS stations on VHF channels.

French inshore waters forecasts (similar to those broadcast by HMCG on VHF) - prévisions or bulletins cotières et peches - are broadcast on marine VHF channels at times to be found in MacMillans Almanac, RYA G5 and le Guide Marine de Météo France (free from most French marinas) and also available online. The Météo France booklet is likely to be the most up to date version.

CROSS broadcast three times a day generally (and five times a day from the CROSS Corsen satellite stations during the period 1 May to 30 September). I have heard forecasts repeated, sometimes phrase by phrase and sometimes as a whole. They are generally read out reasonably slowly and clearly so as to be understandable by anyone with a modicum of French. Even non French speakers can get a good deal from this service.

In my experience, CROSS Etel was usually very good, very slow and clear. Corsen and Joburg are not quite as slow but usually understandable. Sous-CROSS Soulac can be a little fast. Possibly, also, there is a problem with the a local accent, I am not sure. When I last heard it, Gris-Nez was very fast, probably too fast unless you really are used to following the broadcasts. But, even here, practice pays dividends.

In the Western Mediterranean, particularly in 2008, we have found the broadcasts to be good and clear. Clearly, CROSS realise that there are many non-French speakers

were often quite clear apart from a spell in 2001. Then there was one lady who was difficult to understand. Later in the year, she had either improved or been replaced. I am not sure which.

In Northern and Western France, the morning and early afternoon forecasts are for today (aujourd'hui or la journée de ...), tonight (la nuit de ...) and an outlook (tendance ultérieure or évolution pour...) which may be for just one day or can be for several days ahead. The evening forecast is a new forecast and covers tonight (la nuit prochaine), tomorrow (le jour de ....) and an outlook.

In the Western Med, morning and midday forecasts cover today/tonight and tomorrow, separately, in reasonable detail. This is followed by "phenomenon important" normally for a two further days. The evening forecast gives tonight, tomorrow and the following day again followed by "phenomenon important".

Some French marinas display transcripts of the morning broadcasts. These transcripts are a useful way of checking on your ability to understand the broadcasts.

Before sailing in an area it is useful to view texts of French (and Spanish) forecasts by going to my GMDSS page These hyperlinks to the CROSS texts are commendably fast with no frills or adverts on the pages. However, the links from le guide marine de Météo France are very slow over a cell phone.. Anyone wanting to access texts from the Météo France site over a cell or mobile phone should consider using my links or the Saildocs text retrieval system.

Wind

North

Nord

East

Est

South

Sud

West

Ouest

North-east

Nord-est or Nordé*;

North-west

Nord-ouest or Norroit*

South-west

Sud-ouest or Surroit*

South-east

Sud-est or Sudé*;

Veering

Virant or Tournant

Freshening

Fraichissant

Backing

Retournant or Revenant

Moderating

Décroissant or Mollissant

Becoming (in direction)

S'Orientant

Becoming

Devenant

Lull

Accalmie

Cyclonic variable

Vents cycloniques

Gust

Rafale

Squall

Grain

Line squall

Ligne de grain

Offshore wind

Vent de terre

Sea breeze

Brise de mer, sometimes just Brise

Daytime sea breezes and night time land breezes

Brises or Régime des brises

Calm - F0

Calme

Light airs - F1

Très légère brise**

Light breeze - F2

Légère brise**

Gentle breeze - F3

Petite brise**

Moderate Breeze - F4

Jolie brise**

Fresh breeze - F5

Bonne brise**

Strong Breeze - F6

Vent frais**

Near gale - F7

Grand frais

Gale - F8

Coup de vent

Severe gale - F9

Fort coup de vent

Storm - F10

Tempete

Violent storm - F11

Violent tempete

Hurricane - F12

Ouragan

Warning

Avis or BMS***

Strong wind warning

Avis de vent frais (or grand frais)

Gale warning

Avis de coup de vent

Storm warning

Avis de tempete

.

.

  • NOTE Forecasts sometimes used to use the Breton words, Norroit etc for North-west etc. These greatly aided clarity since Nord Est and Nord Ouest can easily be confused, especially if reception is poor. I have not heard them since France Telecom ceased to broadcast forecasts from CRS. I have left the terms in the hope that their use might be reintroduced.
    • NOTE I have never heard CROSS use these descriptive terms eg

Jolie Brise except for Calme and Grand Frais or stronger. These are included here for completeness sake. However, in the Mediterranean "phenomenon important" I have heard the words Moderé, Assez Fort and Fort used to mean, approximately, Beaufort Forces 4, 5 and 6. Météo France says that these are not exact equivalents.

  • NOTE CROSS issue warnings of Fog as well as strong winds.

Weather

Fine

Beau temp

Cloudy

Nuageux

Sunny

Ensoleillé

Clear sky

Clair or dégagé

Clear spells or bright intervals

Eclaircie

Overcast

Couvert

Rain

Pluie

Showers

Averses

Prolonged or heavy showers

Ondées

.

Drizzle

Crachins or Petites pluies *

Hail

Grele

Snow

Neige

Thunderstorm

Orage

Sleet

Neige et pluie

Lightning

Eclairs

Thunder

Tonnerre

Stormy (ie thundery)

Orageuse

Fog

Brouillard*

Good (visibility)**

Bonne

Mist

Brume*

Moderate (visibility)**

Moderée

Fog banks

Bancs de brouillard

Poor (visibility)**

Mauvaise

Light or slight

Faible

Heavy or dense, (sometimes also Humid)

Lourde

Isolated

Isolé

Frequent

Fréquent

Extensive or widespread

Etendue

Clearing

Eclaircissement

Becoming

Devenant

Improvement

Amélioration

Occasional

Eparse or Occasionel

Temporarily

Témporaires

Locally

Localement

Risk of

Menace de

Increasing

Augmentant

Dispersing or clearing

Se dispersant, S'atténuant or Se dissipant

Continuous

Continue

Intermittent

Intermittent

.

  • NOTE In marine forecasts broadcast by CROSS the words Brume (mist) and Bruine (drizzle) are not usually used. This is in order to avoid confusion with each other. Crachins (literally spits) or Petites pluies (literally little rains) are used for drizzle.
  • NOTE In Channel and Atlantic coast forecasts, words are not usually used to describe visibility which is given in miles (milles) or metres. The descriptive terms are used in the Med.

Weather systems and other terms

The forecast

Prévision or Le météo

General synopsis

Situation général et évolution

None (in the sense of no warnings)

Néant or Rien prévu

Warning or Special broadcast

Avis or Bulletin Météorologique Spécial (BMS)

Outlook

Tendance ultérieure or Evolution

.

.

Air stream

Courant (d'air) or Flux

Disturbed westerly weather, series of warm and cold fronts

Flux perturbé or Perturbation

High Pressure*

Anticyclone or Haut pression

Low pressure*

Dépression or Bas pression

Shallow low

Dépression relative

Deep low

Dépression profonde

Ridge

Dorsale

Trough

Creux or Thalweg (Talweg)

(Pressure) Gradient

Gradient (de pression)

Isobar

Isobare

Heat low

Dépression thermique

Unstable air

Instable (atmosphère)

Complex low

Dépression complexe

Large shallow (thundery) low

Marais barométrique

Deepening

Se creusant

Filling

Se comblant

Falling (pressure)

En baisse

Rising (pressure)

En hausse

Cold/warm front

Front froid/chaud

Waving cold front

Front froid ondulant

Warm sector

Secteur chaud

Occlusion

Occlusion or Front occlus

Moving

Se déplacant

Stationary

Stationnaire

Quickly

Rapidement

Slowly

Lentement


  • NOTE Météo France uses the scientifically correct term hectopascal for units of pressure. 1 hectopascal = 1 millibar.

Sea State

Swell

Houle

Waves

Vagues

Sea state

Etat de la mer

Calm

Calme

Smooth

Belle

Slight

Peu agitée

Moderate

Agitée

Rough

Forte

Very rough

Trés forte

High

Grosse

Confused sea

Mer confondue

Wind sea.

Mer du vent.


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2 February, 2000. Updates 20 October 2001, foreword added October 2002, minor amends November, 2008