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Posted at 10:10 AM ET, 12/16/2011

Atlantic storm slams France, Europe; beaches cargo ship

Satellite image of storm “Joachim” at 11:00 UTC, moving west-northwest across Europe. (UK Met Office)
Only a week after a fierce storm struck northern Britain, another powerful low pressure system is trekking across western and central Europe today, bringing hurricane-force winds, heavy rain, and high-elevation snow to parts of France, Germany, and several other countries.

The storm, known locally as “Joachim,” battered the northwest coast of France yesterday and produced wind gusts over 90 mph before moving inland overnight.

A helicopter surveys the Maltese-registered cargo ship TK Bremen, which ran aground on Kerminihy beach at Erdeven, spilling oil from its engines on the coast of Brittany in western France. (STEPHANE MAHE - REUTERS)
France’s national weather service, Météo-France, reports that the storm’s central pressure dropped to 973 mb, similar to that of a category two hurricane. Wind gusts just shy of 60 mph were recorded in Paris today, as well as an 86 mph gust in the French city of Clermont-Ferrand. Nearby, an incredible 131 mph gust was recorded at the 4,800-ft summit of Puy-de-Dôme in central France.

French media report that the storm has caused over 300,000 power outages across the country, and continued wind gusts of 50 to 80 mph led to widespread transportation disruptions throughout the day. Violent winds beached a cargo ship in Brittany, resulting in the leakage of some 220 tons of fuel.

Surface map of low pressure center crossing northern France and the English Channel this morning. Closely packed isobars indicate a tight pressure gradient causing the storm’s violent winds. (NOAA)

As the center of low pressure moved across northern France into Belgium this morning, the storm has brought fierce gales to wide swathes of Germany and the northern Alps. The German weather service has issued a severe or significant weather warning for over half the country and expects heavy rains to continue in the wake of a cold front that is forecast to move in behind the storm today and tomorrow.

Southern Germany and areas in the Swiss and Austrian Alps are already seeing heavy snowfall accompanied by high winds. At the summit of the Zugspitze (elevation 9718 ft), the German weather service recorded a 114 mph wind gust around 1 p.m. local time today.

Strong windstorms often strike Europe during the winter months when deep areas of low pressure develop over the North Atlantic. These mid-latitude cyclones, often associated with arctic fronts, usually stay north of the continent but sometimes slam the European mainland when they take a more southern trajectory. Read more about past European windstorms here.

High surf pounds the coast of France as spectators get sprayed and knocked down. The northwestern Atlantic coast of France measured winds of up to 156 km/h (97 mph) on Friday.

Additional information:

Satellite images of Joachim moving across Europe
Map of current severe weather warnings across Europe (EUMETSAT)
European radar loop (

By  |  10:10 AM ET, 12/16/2011

Categories:  Latest, International Weather

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