Monday, December 2, 2013

When a kiss on the lips is a slap on the cheek

Most cities have it - a meteorological phenomenon unique to the city. In Perth, it's the Fremantle Doctor - although no one in Perth actually calls it that - the breeze that blows off the cold waters of the Indian Ocean most afternoons in summer, cooling the hot, parched land. 

Choppy waves on Lac Leman
In Geneva and around La Côte, it's la bise - the wind that blows from the north-east, straight down the lake. Pronounced 'beez', bise actually means 'kiss' in French. Most of the year, it's a breeze that comes down the lake for a day or two, usually fairly gently, but sometimes a bit stronger. 

That is, until winter, when la bise noire - the black kiss - comes howling down from the north. Cold, strong winds - coming directly from the freezing north and gusting as much as 90km/h - can create havoc; the Jet d'Eau is turned off, UN agencies lower the flags on their buildings. 

A day where the temp is 2C can feel like -5C with the bise noire. It cuts through you like a cold knife, with any extremities - ears, cheeks, hands and fingers - quickly becoming frozen and numb. The bise noire is no gentle kiss; more like a hard slap on the cheek. 

Even the seagulls are finding the
bise noire unpleasant
The normally calm, flat Lake Geneva turns into a windswept, choppy sea, complete with white-capped waves, occasionally high enough for someone with a lack of brains and/or sense to try surfing in. It was the bise noire that caused the coast along the lake to freeze over in February 2012. With ambient air temps below 0C for about two weeks - and in fact hovering around -5C for much of that - the freezing temps, along with the bise noire, cause water blowing on shore to instantly freeze. Footpaths, trees, and even - famously - cars, became covered in a thick layer of ice. Images of several cars parked along the shore covered in ice in nearby Versoix went around the world. 

Flashback: Versoix in February 2012
Thankfully though, while the bise noire we're currently experiencing is fierce, the temperatures are not low enough to cause the water blowing from the lake to freeze. Temps have been a nonetheless chilly 2C or 3C for about a week, but it's the bise which makes it unpleasant, making it feel so much colder than it actually is. 

With forecasts that this winter is expected to be one if the coldest and snowiest on record, I'm looking forward to escaping to the sun when I head for three weeks in South Africa and Perth this month. Give me the Fremantle Doctor any day

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