Grenoble, Un climat à part – interview with Guilhem Martin

Grenoble in Winter seen from the Moucherotte. Photo © Michel Giordani

We meet Guilhem Martin, author of Grenoble, Un climat à part, a new book detailing his passionate observations of extraordinary weather phenomena in the Capital of the Alps.

Grenoble Life: Tell us a little about you and your background

Guilhem Martin: Hi, I’m Guilhem. I grew up in a village called Crolles, to the north of Grenoble. When I was a kid, I loved snow – probably as many kids do – but this love hasn’t left me since then! I started wondering quite early about such climate phenomena as the rain falling while the temperature was below zero degrees Celsius. I studied at Grenoble University and then went to South-West Germany to get a French-German engineering degree. I then worked for three years in Belfort before coming back to Grenoble: I missed the mountains! I now work in R&D at Orange in Meylan.

GL: What is your book about?

Guilhem: Grenoble, un climat à part is about my passion of the local climate. There are huge differences in the weather, from one season to another, but also sometimes from one day to another (as Bhargav Prasanna Swaminathan noticed)! I’ve tried to share my passion in this book and to reveal the weather secrets of the region.

GL: What inspired you to write this book?

Guilhem: For many years I have gathered documents, photos and figures about the Grenoble climate. I’m used to sending an email to friends and relatives when something interesting about the weather happens. So I realized that I had almost all I needed to write a book. That happened in 2012.

GL: What are some of the strange weather phenomena seen in the Grenoble region?

Guilhem: I think the most impressive is the foehn wind. It is a hot and dry wind blowing from the South. It can raise the temperature up by 10 degrees Celsius within one hour, no matter if it is winter or summer, night or day. In winter, you can wake up with Grenoble completely frozen and covered with snow and yet have dinner with a temperature of 15°C-plus and the ground dry.

Another one that I love is the (natural) “snow cannon” – whose nickname was invented by Jean-Jacques Thillet, head weather forecaster at Météo France Grenoble. It occurs three or four times a winter and literally throws snow on Saint-Martin le Vinoux and Grenoble. It is a particular phenomenon that can lead to huge differences in terms of snow depth in the valley. On October 28th, 2012, we had 30 cm of snow near Grenoble railway station while not a single centimeter in the suburban towns of Le Versoud and Montbonnot.

My third favorite is the incredible “snow in the valley and rain in the mountains” phenomenon. It can snow in Grenoble whereas it rains in Villard-de-Lans (in the Vercors mountain range) at the very same moment because of cold air being trapped in the valley.

GL: What are some of the reasons for this unusual weather?

Guilhem: The mountain ranges play a major role in the city climate. The winds can be stopped by the mountains, or, on the contrary, accelerated. The mountains can increase the rainfall or completely wring the air dry (typically with south foehn wind). In summer, mountains are generally a great source for thunderstorm clouds (the famous cumulonimbus).

GL: You claim in your book that you are less a scientist than an observer of Grenoble weather. How did you compile all the research?

Guilhem: I would say that first I observed the weather and then I tried to get explanations. Thanks to the weather community in the Grenoble area, I learnt lots of things. There are lots of very interesting websites made by weather lovers such as Météo Vizille (for a precise description of the day-to-day climate) and the Romma association (a powerful network of weather stations all over the Alps). Then, I also read many documents on the climate and weather in Grenoble.

GL: Do you have plans for other books? What would you like to write about?

Guilhem: This is my first published book. I’ve written two others about my family memoirs, yet they are rather books intended for my children and their cousins, so that they will learn about their great-grandparents when they grow older. But I’m looking forward to having Grenoble, un climat à part translated into English so as to share the passion with more people – especially for the native English speakers living in the Grésivaudan valley!

GL: What, asides from the weather, do you love about Grenoble?

Guilhem: I’m a mountain-lover. Skiing, biking and hiking are my favorite sports. You can feel you are very far from home and forget all your little daily problems … just 20 kilometers away from the city.

Last but not least, I like very much the pizzerias, fondue-restaurants and the city museums, especially the Musée Dauphinois!

For more information on Grenoble, un climat à part and where to buy it see the website: