Is It Safe to Travel to Europe During the Heat Wave? Here’s What You Need to Know Before You Go

Theatre of Dionysus, on the south slope of the Acropolis hill

By Kurt Stolz on 23 July 2023
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Think it’s warm here? It’s not just much of the United States that’s sweltering under extreme heat waves, but also a good part of the European continent.

Temperatures in Italy, Greece, and Spain seem to be breaking new records daily and no relief is in sight, while many other countries – such as Austria and Czechia – are seeing unusually warm temperatures as well.

This raises the question of whether to change plans, go, and if you go, how to stay safe.

Thermometers in Italy, Spain, and Greece are vying with Death Valley – the hottest place on earth during the summer.  The high expected in Death Valley on Sunday is 123° F (50.5° C) and meteorologists are predicting that the temperature will reach as high as 118° F (48° C) later this week in parts of those countries. Meanwhile, wildfires are not only burning in Canada but also in Croatia, Greece, Switzerland, and Spain’s Canary Islands, forcing thousands of locals and tourists to evacuate on short notice.

To avoid the heat, head to the mountains

It’s important to keep in mind that most European homes and some office buildings and shops lack air conditioning, particularly in Northern Europe given the cool, moderate weather that has been until recently typical of the region. In addition, the weather is typically much less humid than it is in the United States.  Washington D.C., a major tourist destination, was literally built on a swamp and there’s a reason it appears near deserted each August.

In Southern Europe, air conditioning is more prevalent but just one in ten households in Europe has air-conditioning, a rate far below that found in China, Japan, or the United States, where some 90% of households have a cooling system.

In addition, in multiple nations, governments have placed restrictions on the use of air-conditioning systems.

In Spain, for example, despite high temperatures last summer, the government last year at this time began requiring that air conditioning systems in public places be set no lower than 80° F (27° C) , following in the footsteps of similar measures in Italy and Greece.

If this move seems like a counterintuitive response to a heat wave, that’s because Europe is simultaneously in the midst of a huge energy crunch as Russia continues to throttle the Continent’s natural gas supplies.

The heat waves last year did take their toll.  A study published in the journal Nature Medicine last week, “Heat-related mortality in Europe during the summer of 2022,” found that the extreme heat in 2022 caused at least 61,000 excess deaths.  Meanwhile, temperatures this summer are averaging several degrees higher than last year’s.

If You Travel: Precautions to Take

First and foremost, listen to what your mother likely told you repeatedly: “Drink lots of water” and stay hydrated.

In addition, plan indoor activities in air conditioning during the midafternoon, the hottest part of the day.  Limit outdoor activities then and avoid direct sunlight.

Wearing loose, light-fitting clothing can help and cool showers will lower your body temperature.  Keep in mind that infants and the elderly are more sensitive to heat than others and that some pre-existing conditions and medications can also make one more sensitive than usual to hot weather.

If all else fails, head to the beach or countryside and finally, if you are first making plans now, go during the shoulder or off season or pick more northerly destinations in Europe, where temperatures are likely to be more moderate.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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