Following the violent storms that struck France in December 1999 and their dramatic aftermath, we asked three eminent specialists for their brief reactions to the questions: Was this a one-off, chance phenomenon or a sign of what lies ahead, because of climate change? Were the storms predictable? What precautions could have been taken? What lessons can be learned from these events and their consequences, and the way in which they were handled?
The first of these specialists is André Lebeau, who looks first at the forecasting aspect and then at the question of prevention.
He reminds us that Météo France had put out a storm warning 24 hours earlier. But it is true that the strength of the storm was underestimated, and an important issue is whether progress can be made in improving the accuracy of forecasts sufficiently far ahead. This is a difficult question to answer since it involves the impact of human activities on climate change.
As to the question of prevention, André Lebeau distinguishes three levels: first, the unavoidable damage caused to the physical environment; then, appropriate action by the general public, which is clearly not as aware of the possible risks in metropolitan France as people are in areas that are more often faced with catastrophes of this kind and where they take greater precautions. Finally, says André Lebeau, it is obvious that if such phenomena became more frequent, much stronger precautionary measures would certainly have to be taken.