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You say heatwave, I say tomato, no, what?
July 15, 2013 10:29 PM   Subscribe

Over the past few days, I've seen reports in the British media about the upcoming heatwave featuring sky-high blazing temperatures of over 30C. What?

Is this just media melodramatics or is 30+C truly considered dangerous territory in the UK?

Many parts of the world routinely experience 30-32C weather with no hint of alarm. I get that people who live in one end of the extreme weather scale will have difficulty adapting to living at or near the other end, but 30C doesn't seem extreme. Or is it?
posted by Gyan to Science & Nature (65 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I lived in New Zealand we'd have media panics about any extended periods of 25 C + weather. Certainly temperatures over thirty were considered reason to be careful about fluids, shade, sunhats and stay indoors if possible.

Now that I live in Australia no one blinks an eye unless it goes over 40, but yeah, it depends on what you are used to. (And I bet if you are unused to anything about 25, you are more likely to get dehydrated or get sunstroke by not behaving sensibly in 32 degrees.)
posted by lollusc at 10:35 PM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's more extreme when your country doesn't have the infrastructure to support it. Most shops, houses and offices in the UK aren't air-conditioned, for a start. The Tube in London is boiling hot even in winter - so if you throw some unseasonably hot weather into the mix, you can imagine what might happen. People passing out on the tube from heatstroke is not uncommon.

Contrast that with the many countries where temperatures of 30+C are routine - Singapore, Malaysia, Australia - air-conditioning is everywhere and it's much easier to get through the day when it's really hot.
posted by RubyScarlet at 10:37 PM on July 15, 2013 [38 favorites]


I can't speak to Britain specifically, but often in parts of the world where it doesn't usually get very hot, even slightly hotter than normal temperatures can be dangerous because local infrastructure can't handle it.

For example in New York, most homes don't have central air. You've got to supply your own portable air conditioners if you want them, and a lot of poorer people can't afford that (especially since they're only useful a few weeks out of the year). So anytime there's a heat wave -- which is temperatures that would be considered totally normal in Florida or Arizona -- you've suddenly got a vulnerable population.

Now, as a city government, you have a choice here. You can warn people of the dangers of high heat, work with the electric company to handle higher than normal loads (because the people who do have AC units will all suddenly power them all on en masse), provide "cooling centers", open fire hydrants, etc. Or you can do nothing and issue a press release that says, "Look, chumps, it's way hotter in Nevada, OK, so what do you have to complain about?"
posted by Sara C. at 10:37 PM on July 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


It got up to 86 F (30C) in Anchorage, Alaska this summer, provoking much angst. As others have said, if your location generally doesn't experience hot weather, you're not going to have the infrastructure to mitigate it. A 30C day in Washington DC or Madrid or wherever is no big deal-- maybe you turn on the air conditioning, you break out your summery clothes, etc. But in Anchorage, very few residential buildings have air conditioning, and even schools and commercial buildings often don't either, nor buses, etc. People don't necessarily have fans or summer wardrobes. Perhaps most importantly, people just aren't used to it, which has physiological and psychological consequences.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:56 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Two categories of reasons:
* Inexperience - people get drunk and stay out in the sun too long, nursing homes don't push drinks on their residents nearly enough, people don't consider what sunbathing too long will do to them

* Infrastructure - in the last two weeks, the only air conditioned places I have been in have been two supermarkets. Everything else is built to retain heat as much as possible. In the hospital I work in, there are great big windows on the south side to act like a greenhouse and heat the air. That means they currently can't cool anything down and it's really super hot. I have to be in my car for 50 minutes after it's been sitting in the sun all day, which overheats me more than I've been all day. My poor patients are uncomfortable and refusing to eat or drink - because we only really have hot meal options. Everything is set up to catch the sun, not provide shade.

One thing you may not have considered - in London we have one of the few underground train systems that doesn't have air conditioning on most lines - the heat builds up during the year and can get to dangerous levels, all while you're pressed in against other people with no way to leave if you startt o feel funny.

We're just not built for this weather - I was out cycling on Saturday and the roads were melting so much my tires were starting to sink in. They had to close a section of our main motorway around London because the road was getting churned up by the cars.

Our hospital admissions have jumped, mainly due to people coming in with dehydration and heatstroke but also head injuries from getting drunk (because when it's sunny people go to pubs, sit outside and drink). Several people have died from swimming in dangerous rivers because nobody has really pointed out where is good for swimming and where isn't, because it's seldom warm enough.

I've travelled a lot to countries that are much hotter, and this stuff doesn't happen to the same extent. In Japan there was air conditioning everywhere, and the traditional buildings were designed to cool things down. In Rome we stayed in huge old stone buildings that were cooler than outside. Here I open my front door and the wall of heat hits me. So then I need to go and sit in the tiny corner of my brick courtyard garden that actually gets some shade. We don't own fans, we don't own air conditioning.
posted by kadia_a at 11:01 PM on July 15, 2013 [29 favorites]


Bear in mind that UK winter temperatures are frequently sub-zero (we've had -10C in the past couple of years). I would imagine it's difficult to design infrastructure to cope with both of these extremes. For example, there are speed limits imposed on trains in very hot weather because the rails buckle due to thermal expansion.

Also, our homes are rarely designed for heat, with the priority on insulation for the cold, rather than cooling and airflow for the heat.
posted by firesine at 11:05 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let me turn this on its head and ask you what would happen if you got a period of extended snowfall and below-freezing temperatures? People would probably freak out, right? (Your profile says Bombay and even if that's inaccurate, I'm guessing you live somewhere hot since you're asking this).

I live in a hot area and have lived in hot areas and when it snows people go absolutely bonkers. The cities shut down highways, all work is canceled, there are a ton of accidents, the news coverage is borderline hysterical. Actually, not just borderline, it snowed when I lived in Seattle (which isn't even particularly hot but doesn't get much snow) and was covered like SNOWPACALYPSE NOW: WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE! At one point, I lived in Alabama and we got a quarter inch of snow and I had to call my boss, who lived in the far reaches of Canada, and tell him I couldn't get to the office because the highway into town was closed. He didn't believe me because a quarter inch of snow where he lives isn't even worth dragging out the snow shovel for.

So you guys probably don't have buildings built to retain heat, probably don't have the wardrobes for an extended cold snap, probably don't know all the little survival rules for being out in the serious cold, etc.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:11 PM on July 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


I moved to Seattle, another city that rarely experiences temperatures about 90F, during a week of 95+ days. It was pretty much a nightmare, even though I'd lived in both Thailand and DC. Because not only do the houses not have AC, most of the businesses and public transit don't either. And the buildings are generally designed to maximize sunlight and heat retention, not for cooling. Hell, I know people here who don't even own a FAN.

In contrast, many homes in DC have AC, not to mention pretty much all the businesses and trains. And while many residential buildings in Thailand don't, they're built to maximize airflow and keep people cool. In the dorm where I lived in Thailand, I would often have to get up in the middle of the night and turn the fan off, because the airflow through my room would cool things down significantly at night.
posted by lunasol at 11:18 PM on July 15, 2013


I meant to know more about physiology. The point about infrastructure is noted, but that's only a factor because of the apparent difficulty of adaptation. There's no concern about infrastructure for 20C weather because there's no concern for human tolerance of 20C. Here in Mumbai, 30C is absolutely routine weather, and most of the population don't have ACs. Most shops are open to the air. Most people even in residential buildings don't run AC during the day, and it's typically installed only in the bedrooms, not the living room.

Ghostride The Whip: Snow is different because that, umm, blankets the physical transport medium a.k.a roads, which is to say, it's a mechanical obstruction. Mumbaites would have problems in the 'serious cold', but that begs the converse question. What's serious cold? 15C or 5C or -5C?
posted by Gyan at 11:19 PM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I lived in London for 5 years, and am now back in Western Australia, where I grew up.

Give me 40 degrees in Perth over 30 degrees in London any day. The houses over there are not built for heat: my third-floor bedroom with one tiny sash window was revolting at night in summer. There are virtually no ceiling fans, let alone air-conditioning. There's no sea breeze, obviously, and most small shops have inadequate refrigeration, so drinks and chocolate are lukewarm/melted. The heat gets trapped by all the tall, narrow buildings and vehicle fumes. The tube is murder.

I was in London for the big heat wave of...2001 (?). I constantly heard, 'Oh, but YOU should be fine - you're from Australia!'. Uh, yeah. Where I live 10 minutes from the beach and have ducted air conditioning, a swimming pool, and ceiling fans in every room. And the public transport is all air-con'd. And the streets are wide open, the houses are all bungalows, and the sea breeze comes in every afternoon. You get the picture.
posted by Salamander at 11:29 PM on July 15, 2013 [16 favorites]


(That said...30 doesn't seem all that extreme, even for England. Anythung much over, though...)
posted by Salamander at 11:30 PM on July 15, 2013


I am another Australian reporting in who copes pretty well with >40° in Sydney but who has been pretty messed up by British >30° weather. English buildings really don't have the kinds of things that tropical cities take for granted, like high ceilings, overhanging eaves and awnings on buildings, windows you can open in the morning or shutters you can put down in the heat of the day. Even street trees.

Also, the British, like most Northern Europeans are weird about the sun. I know a lot of people who explain to UK immigrants to Australia that no, in the summer, you can't just open a window to cool the house down in the heat. 'Outside is hotter than inside' is a foreign concept.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:32 PM on July 15, 2013


If your country spends most of its time dealing with nothing more exciting than a bit of mild drizzle, then sudden unexpected variations in the temperature will have a death toll, yes.

In the winter, this manifests as people dying on the roads because nobody has snow tyres or enough experience driving on ice and because every year the council has to make a budget call. Should they spend that money on stockpiling grit and a fleet of grit wagons for a snowstorm that might never even happen? Or spend it on schools and risk being blamed if somebody dies on an untreated road? 

Our homes aren't built or equipped for the cold either. People don't own snow shovels, so if you get snowed in overnight you're there until it thaws. We also don't have things like that shrinkie-dink stuff that Minnesotans put on their windows to prepare the house for a harsh winter, because our winters are generally not harsh.

So every time it snows people die - mostly older people - because they can't heat their home enough or walk on the unshovelled pavement or drive on the ungritted roads that suddenly resemble a level of Mario Kart.

Hot weather is just the same thing reversed, where the killers are things like lack of AC or even fans, tombstoning, trying to do the usual amount of exercise or physical labour without allowing for the heat, not dressing for the weather, roads that weren't designed for the heat starting to melt or crack and - in the long term - skin cancer, because so many people forego sunblock in order to take advantage of our tiny window for tanning.

Basically it's nothing to do with the temperature itself and everything to do with infrastructure, education and budgeting.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:33 PM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


A lot of the news panic is because many people are very uncomfortable, but there is a sharp uptick in deaths among the elderly and the very young during heat waves in places that don't get warm often and don't have AC. Some of it is due to lack of habit - checking on vulnerable neighbors, making sure people get both water and electrolytes - but some of it is that many people have no way to escape the heat at all. No AC even in the bedroom at night. Buildings designed to hold in heat such that they stay over 30C 24/7 for days at a time. Heat waves are harder to bear in Seattle than where I grew up in a desert.
posted by SakuraK at 11:37 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gyan: "I meant to know more about physiology. The point about infrastructure is noted, but that's only a factor because of the apparent difficulty of adaptation. There's no concern about infrastructure for 20C weather because there's no concern for human tolerance of 20C. Here in Mumbai, 30C is absolutely routine weather, and most of the population don't have ACs. Most shops are open to the air. Most people even in residential buildings don't run AC during the day, and it's typically installed only in the bedrooms, not the living room."

It's about what you're used to, on a society-wide basis. Just like Italians and Greeks visiting the UK frequently wear enormous, floor-length duvet jackets in weather where the locals are in t-shirts and shorts, I'd imagine a Mumbai native used to monsoon summers would find a British spring absolutely freezing. Indeed, when I worked with Indian and Filipino engineers in a previous job, they complained bitterly about the cold and wet in mid-August.

And as said above, we have thousands of hundred or two hundred year old brick or stone built buildings that retain heat like sponges in the summer. If you're not acclimatised to it and you don't drink enough water etc, it's easy to fall victim to heat stroke.

Read up on human acclimitisation if you'd like to know more.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:39 AM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


kadia_a's answer is spot on. We're just not prepared for it in this country. Homes don't have air-conditioning, and only more modern offices will have any kind of cooling system. But yesterday morning I walked into the office at 7am and it was like stepping into a sauna - because "to save money" the air-con had been switched off on Friday night and wasn't switched back on until 8am Monday morning.

In particular, the London Underground is horrendous. The only ventilation is from two tiny windows that open about a foot at each end of the carriage. The air vents (which are pretty useless) are inevitably covered up by people discarding their free newspapers. In hot weather the papers will regularly report that the conditions on the Underground are so bad that it's against the law to transport animals in that heat because they'd, you know, die. But it's perfectly ok for humans.

We've also had a run of fairly poor summers that have been much cooler with maybe only two or three days in a row of good weather. So when there's more than a week of high temperatures, people start to suffer, particularly those who don't drink enough water, sunbathe without sunscreen or get drunk and lie in the sun/go swimming in a weir.
posted by essexjan at 12:50 AM on July 16, 2013


I meant to know more about physiology. The point about infrastructure is noted, but that's only a factor because of the apparent difficulty of adaptation. There's no concern about infrastructure for 20C weather because there's no concern for human tolerance of 20C. Here in Mumbai, 30C is absolutely routine weather, and most of the population don't have ACs. Most shops are open to the air. [emphasis added] Most people even in residential buildings don't run AC during the day, and it's typically installed only in the bedrooms, not the living room.

Some of it is about difficulty of adaptation, yes, but what I think what you are missing is that because UK houses, buildings, Tube stations etc. are not built for high temperatures, the interiors of these spaces can get much hotter than the temperature outside. You mentioned that shops in Mumbai are open air. That means they are built for the heat--even if they don't have A/C, the hot air is not getting trapped inside to create an oven.

Think about what happens if you leave a car in the hot sun with the windows closed. The air inside the car can reach dangerously high temperatures while the temperature outside remains the same.

This slideshow (though in Fahrenheit) shows what happens to the temperature inside a closed car when the outside temperature is 32C (90F). Within 10 minutes, the interior temperature has risen to 42C (109F). That's one degree Celsius per minute. Yes, humans can survive 30C usually, but 42C is much harder on the human body. By the last slide, after 90 minutes, the exterior temperature is still at 32C, but the temperature inside the car is 58.8C. That's not survivable.

It's no stretch of the imagination to say that if the temps outside are 30C, it could easily reach temps of 42 or higher in a closed-up environment like the Tube. A small apartment with full sun exposure and windows that don't open fully could heat up unexpectedly quickly, like the interior of that car.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:51 AM on July 16, 2013 [20 favorites]


To give some idea - two soldiers died of heatstroke while training in Wales over the past weekend. At temperatures much lower than those encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan (and various military bases I have worked on in Australia). If you are not used to it, and try to do what you do in 'normal' weather, you can get in to a lot of trouble.

And as others have said - the infrastructure here is just not built for hot weather. I type this as I sit in my already hot house in Wiltshire, though luckily I have fans I brought over when I moved from Australia.
posted by Megami at 12:56 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brit here. Personally, I'm loving the weather. But I'm used to hot countries and hate the cold.

Yes, the infrastructure isn't built for extremes. My house has poor insulation and nighttime temperatures indoors are around 25C at the moment. The deeper tube lines have no air conditioning so - the oft quoted comment is - commuters are packed in more tightly and at higher temperatures than we allow by law for moving livestock.

But above all, people aren't used to these temperatures. We have a lot of fair skinned people, for example, who'll go bright red at the merest hint of sun. If you're used to summer time temperatures of around 20C, like most of northern England is, then 30C is a lot hotter.

People don't take on fluids as much as they should do and often don't moderate alcohol intake to account for the higher risk of dehydration. There isn't such a hard and fast culture of wearing sunscreen or seeking out the shade, which means by the time people get into trouble they're really in trouble. We don't dress appropriately - for example, most men's suits that your average office worker would wear are made of wool and it's an added expense to have a lighter summer suit. Workwear for people who do jobs outside - postmen, street cleaners etc isn't geared towards strong sun and high temperatures even though there are summer and winter uniforms. We don't shuttle between air conditioned cars and houses and offices. We still try and do the same things we normally do - the London 10K featuring thousands of runners took place on Sunday and for participants in that and other sports the threat of heatstroke is not something they find easy to gauge.

In short, physiologically and behaviourally, people haven't had time to acclimatise and added to that the infrastructure isn't generally set up to deal with extremes. This is why the elderly in particular suffer - their bodies really cannot acclimatise as quickly and often the support networks they rely on are not quick enough or comprehensive enough to respond.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:12 AM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a point of reference, I'm an American who grew up in Ohio and then lived in Boston for ten years, were 30+ deg in the summer is nothing to write home about (and -12 in the winter during my half-walking commute is nbd either), who now lives in the southwestern UK, and I've been having a good laugh over what I absolutely perceive as silly panic.

That said, when I got in the car the other day for a 2.5 hour drive during the hottest, sunniest part of the day, and realized OUR CAR DOESN'T HAVE GODDAMN AIR CONDITIONING, I started to understand.

Buildings, cars, infrastructure, etc in the UK aren't built to deal with temps about the mid-twenties. More importantly, people don't know how to deal with it: precautions to take, ways to keep cool, and so on.
posted by olinerd at 1:32 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm in Ireland living through the same high temperatures (27-33 highs, normally it's more like 22-25) and it is absolutely a big deal.

People here are very pale. Some of it is the local Irish colouring (red hair is more common here), but a lot of it is just because there is usually so little sun (I'm from NZ, have been here two years and have never been this pale). So there are a lot of really nasty sunburns walking around out there right now. Like really eye-wateringly nasty. Being from NZ I know how to prevent this kind of thing, people who live here clearly don't.

I'm currently not working but my old workplace is apparently unbearable. Not only no aircon, but entire walls of glass windows with only a tiny bit that opens. Fully internal offices with no windows at all. No air flow, noticeably hotter inside than out, no thought to how to keep anything cool. Some of the lab equipment is malfunctioning due to the heat. Basically, I'm just really glad I'm not there.

My house is a bit better designed, I at least have (crappy) double glazing. But there are few windows, they don't open much, and getting any kind of air flow going is difficult at best. This kind of house design is totally normal here. It's really hard to sleep when your bedroom is more than ten degrees warmer at night than it has been at any point in the previous two summers. We really don't have the infrastructure to deal with these kinds of temperatures.

There have been more drownings than usual in the last week. It seems that this place is cold enough normally that there isn't the same really large emphasis put on water safety as I had growing up in NZ where it's warm. And even if there was, the heat means all kinds of people out swimming that wouldn't usually bother.

Again, I'm used to strong sunshine so know about heat exhaustion and sensible drinking etc, but I've seen some really irresponsible behaviour out and about which makes it clear that a lot of the locals don't. And even then, after two years here I no longer own many clothes that are suitable for this heat and it is making a huge difference. It's not worth going out and buying more given the weather may break at any moment (clothes are expensive in Ireland) so I'm sitting in my house every day sweating in long denim cutoffs and heavy tee shirts.

So the newspapers are publishing stories warning people to beware of heat exhaustion, sun burn, and water safety for good reason. People are genuinely being hurt by this unexpected heat wave. Being 5 degrees hotter than the usual highest temperatures with just so much ,more strong sunshine, and for much longer than normal too (we normally get one or two nice days at a time, not weeks worth altogether), is a big deal in the UK and Ireland regardless of how hot it gets somewhere like India.
posted by shelleycat at 1:32 AM on July 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


My house faces directly west, and the front room and master bedroom (at the front of the house) are unusable from about 3pm onwards due to the sauna effect. The rooms are designed to capture and retain the heat. Also, my street is currently without power as the cloth insulation on the power cables has burnt due to the heat (or something - major drama anyway as some houses have now been without power for three days). This country is just not designed for 30degrees for weeks at a time.
posted by goo at 1:44 AM on July 16, 2013


The British essentially take the same view as farmers - the weather is always disastrous, even if it's exactly what you were asking for a week ago.
posted by Segundus at 1:44 AM on July 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ditto everything that all the other Australians said about infrastructure, and to look at it from the other side of the coin, the majority of Australian homes are woefully unprepared for cold weather. Poor insulation and lack of double-glazed windows, and a people that are just not used to putting jackets on, means that a winter in Australia will often feel worse than one in Europe. I lived in Sweden for six months through a very snowy winter, and give me their winter anyday!
posted by ryanbryan at 1:59 AM on July 16, 2013


In more normal UK summer weather, we often don't need sun cream (I haven't used any in this country for three or four years). It's pleasant to walk around (even at 2pm) wearing tiny shorts and a small top (or for men, no top at all). Because we don't often get beautiful weather, we take the opportunity to go to beer gardens in the afternoon. We also open all the windows in our houses, and we go and lie in the sun in bikinis in the garden.

Leaving dogs and kids temporarily in cars is also something that many folks here do, and we might not think to check that Grandma's wheelchair isn't parked in direct sunlight.

So even though most of us probably know in theory what one does differently in 30 degrees, our ingrained unthinking summer habits are pretty well designed to get us sunburned, overheated and dehydrated.
posted by emilyw at 2:00 AM on July 16, 2013


Brit here. Whenever the weather deviates from our usual fayre of overcast drizzle, the media have a field day. Even if it's 2 days of snow in the Winter, that's classified as 'the big freeze'.

Summer here normally consists of a week, maybe 2, of 25° nice weather. It looks like this 'heatwave' may last for a month or more. Because us Brits get such rubbish summers normally, we tend to go a bit over the top when we do get hot weather, to get our money's worth so to speak.

People drink too much booze, get sunburnt, dehydrated, and eventually irate.

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun
posted by derbs at 2:01 AM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Brit here too. When standing at the bus stop it is far more interesting to say "did you here about the heatwavepocalypes?" Than "nice bit of sun we having today?"
posted by 0 answers at 2:16 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Toronto weather is temperate by Canadian winter standards, but even in balmy southern Ontario they give special attention to the number of days per year where the temperature rises above 30C. The local definition for a heat wave is "three consecutive days over 32C", which happens "0.57 times per year" historically. The city has a well developed heat alert system and public infrastructure in place to reduce heat-related injuries1 (heatstroke, exhaustion, etc) during these "extreme" temperature events.

Currently the 30C+ average is 22 days per year. Global warming predictions are forecasting triple that number within a few decades, which is really shocking news. Here's how the local environmental offices react:
Imagine a summer where for two months the temperature does not go down below 30C. If that were to happen tomorrow there would probably be a significant number of deaths. Our electricity infrastructure would fail. We would have massive blackouts and, who knows what else would happen to the other urban infrastructure? I’m not sure that the city and this administration is taking any of this stuff seriously,” said Franz Hartmann of the Toronto Environmental Alliance.
This is a place where the lows last January were below -20C (-30C including windchill) and everyone took it in stride. There's a cold alert system for the city too, but it doesn't kick in until around -15C. The record low measured at Pearson airport was -31.3C (-44.7 with windchill) on January 4, 1981, so -20s are annoying but still business-as-usual; the roads get plowed and everyone bundles up their faces to avoid frostbite.

And Toronto is technically further south (43.6481° N) than London, England (51.5171° N). So anyway, that's another place in the world where 30C is treated as a big deal.

1 Programs like these are designed to reduce public health costs due to weather related injuries, since there is universal healthcare there. Prevention plans go into effect so that the hospital emergency rooms don't fill up with heatstroke victims. The cost of running the city health plan is much cheaper than the predicted medical expenses.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:18 AM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes 30 degrees is dangerous.

I'm currently dealing with feeling incredibly faint, weak, and nauseous, and being covered in pinpoint blisters because of the heat. What you have to remember is that there is no escape here. None. Basically nowhere is air-conditioned (certainly nobody's house) so if you're getting too hot you can... suffer.

It's the same reason 10 degrees was dangerous in Hong Kong - nowhere has heating. If you're too cold you can't do much about it (assuming you're already wrapped up warm).
posted by Dysk at 2:19 AM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's definitely interesting to consider what the city is built for. We had a 46.3°C (119°F) day here in Phoenix the last week of June and you just. stay. inside. and keep the air running all day.

So we're acclimated, the infrastructure helps, every single place you go to has air conditioning (and it's still considerably cheaper for us to cool 40° to livable versus the 55-65+° that might be considered livable when it's literally freezing out), and our roads, buildings, and even street signs are built for it.

We also drink a ton of water, just because it's simply so dry. You just put the stuff away.

But I'll tell you this: no matter how hot you think it got in London, it doesn't beat the 160°F/71°C I had waiting for me when I got out of the coffee shop after leaving my car in 110°F heat in direct sun today.

That, you still don't get used to. You feel the moisture on your eyes evaporate away. My car has aluminum trim—it's a minefield of branding risks. The car blows even HOTTER air at you for the first 5 minutes or so, even if your AC is working perfectly well. Your steering wheel is so hot to the touch some people use a towel from their glove box. (I have an industrial windshield shade to help). It. Is. Hot. But at least it's nice about 6-7 months of the year...

But yeah, you can definitely grill an egg. People do that. But it's dry, and I'd take 110° with no humidity to 90° + 80% humidity. I simply do not understand how Florida does it. It's just cruel.
posted by disillusioned at 2:26 AM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's also not just the temperature, but the humidity. I would suspect the relative humidity in the UK is stifling. When your sweat system doesn't work, you can overheat very quickly.

Also, besides acclimatization, there is a thing about the length of time at a certain temperature. One day at 35 is one thing. But a whole week over 30? That drains the life out of people- especially those who aren't used to it. There is a reason the hotter parts of the world have customs like the daytime siesta.

Just for reference, here in Chicago, it was something like 31 yesterday. The humidity was stifling. I just woke up in the middle of the night, and I am absolutely freezing with my air conditioning set at 25. But on Sunday, the weather was much milder, and my house felt uncomfortably warm at 25.
posted by gjc at 2:46 AM on July 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's just that we're not used to it. Recently, some of the newer London buses feature AC. Every single time I have ridden one of these during the recent warm spell people get on and immediately open windows. Every. Single. Time. I have patiently tried to explain to them why this is counter-productive in an environment with AC and the response is always bafflement, and comments like "But... it's hot! We need the windows open!"

That's how unused we are to temperatures in the thirties.
posted by Decani at 3:19 AM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Honestly, I don't think air conditioning has much to do with it. I've never lived anywhere with aircon and most placed I've worked don't have it either (sometimes I've had aircon in the labs with heat-sensitive equipment but never the offices etc). But until I moved over here I'd also never worked in a building with entire north and southfacing walls made of single-glazed glass with no insulation and little airflow. Or had a totally internal office with no windows at all. Or any of the other designs that people are mentioning in this thread. It was easily over 35 in my old workplace all of last week and that's pretty awful for a job where you have to wear closed toe shoes and are supposed to wear a heavy lab coat. Of course heat exhaustion is a possibility in those conditions. So it's not just that we don't have air-con, the buildings are really genuinely built so that they stay as hot as possible.

Plus it doesn't matter how well air-conditioned your work place is if you get second degree burns as soon as the sun comes out for more than a couple of hours. Sun burn and excessive tanning are never healthy or beneficial. Yeah some newspapers are being sensationalist about this but sun-safe education is clearly necessary based on how much red and blistered skin I've seen in the last week.
posted by shelleycat at 4:06 AM on July 16, 2013


Don't forget the possibility that some frail or vulnerable people are dying or otherwise suffering from heat in places where the temperature in question is routine, and it's just not reported precisely because it's routine, like your average traffic accident death in the US or UK.
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:24 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


To answer your question about cold so maybe you can get a view from the other extreme. You can die of hypothermia at around 5C if you do a lot wrong (e.g. Get lost in the woods overnight, damp or wet clothes, wearing only a cotton shirt and shorts).

However, as a Canadian, that is still a completely comfortable temperature and you can walk around in shorts and a t-shirt and never think of dying of hypothermia (especially in the spring). Cold weather warnings start around -20c (cover exposed skin) and gets bad at -30/35c when exposed skin freezes quickly and diesel vehicles don't start. In Saskatchewan, school was only cancelled below -35c.

School is also cancelled if you get say 3 inches of snow within a short period of time. It's actually really easy to get around with an inch of snow (if you are prepared and used to it). It's not deadly at all unless it's freezing and thawing and even then it's slipping on ice that's the worry, not the snow.
posted by hydrobatidae at 4:38 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Forgot my point - your range of cold temperatures is really funny (sorry, this sounds snarky but I really don't mean it that way) and many people live in areas that regularly get well below those temperatures without bad things happening. You can probably then imagine they're not really used to or prepared for +30c.
posted by hydrobatidae at 4:44 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Let's not make this a discussion.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:44 AM on July 16, 2013


I agree that the British attitude to the sun is part of the problem - I can never quite get over how blase we are about sunburn here in the UK. After one bad sunburn as a kid I'm now really pathological about avoiding it, whereas the prevailing attitude seems to be "OMG the sun's out - get outside NOW and BURN as much of yourself as possible!!" So, unlike most people experiencing a lot of sunshine, we do actually need to be told that this isn't good for us and we shouldn't really do it.

I think generally the problem is our culture of "making the most of" hot weather (because we experience it so infrequently) rather than taking the necessary precautions to avoid it damaging us. I read an article that was talking about soaring sales of deckchairs, paddling pools and barbecues since the hot weather has started - so you can see, the British mentality is "oooh it's hot, let's go and sit in it".

Also I had to visit three shops at the weekend before I found one that hadn't sold out of electric fans...
posted by raspberry-ripple at 4:47 AM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


English person living in Toronto now - I struggle even now with the number of 30 degree days and I have been here for 6 years. I'd not be able to sleep at all without air conditioning at night and not one of the man, many places I lived in the UK over 34 years had air conditioning.

It's not just that we aren't used to it (although that is a major factor, which is why snow shuts half the UK down for quantities of the stuff that'd be literally laughed off in Toronto as a 'snow fall') it's also because of the very real 'averageness' of UK weather. There's one big factor that people completely forget:

For all the rain and cloudy days and stuff that UK weather is mocked for it means one very important element exists: For the most part (at least 11 months of the year in most of the country) you can pretty much completely ignore the weather in the UK. As in, COMPLETELY ignore it. You may need a jacket in the cold (or just rush between your car and the buildings) and you may feel like you need a drink of water every now and then, but the weather is so changeable and wobbling around the middle ranges of 'nothing very severe' that you can largely get by with absolutely zero consequences except being a 'bit hot' or a 'bit cold' for a few minutes.

I had a large culture shock over here and when I lived in Italy and the US. You have to pay attention to the weather - plan for it. In England, you just look out the window, take a fleece or a rain jacket and head out. It's so much less of a consideration for any of the day to day planning than anyone who hasn't lived there for an extended period realises.

OF course, when you can largely ignore the weather, you become accustomed to largely ignoring the weather. So doing something else gets forgotten.
posted by Brockles at 5:11 AM on July 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


An interesting point to just see how different climates react to the temperature: I have been active in the Red Cross in two cities, and have done disaster response training in both of them. The two cities are Chicago and Savannah, GA.

When a house burns down in Savannah, making sure the family has access to AC is on the list of essential needs (along with food, clothing, shelter).

When a house burns down in Chicago, making sure the family has access to heat is on the list of essential needs.
posted by phunniemee at 6:14 AM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Something that you may be interested in is vernacular architecture, " a category of architecture based on localized needs and construction materials, and reflecting local traditions."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:35 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most of the British media is based in London, and most people in London travel to work on public transport. Buses and trains are VERY hot this week, particularly tubes which are not air-conditioned and are hot underground. During the last 'heatwave' in 2006, I was on my bus home from work with sweat dripping into the rims of my sunglasses, and at this time of year stations have recorded announcements reminding passengers to carry a bottle of water with them. The media making a thing of it also fills pages, because they can print photos of packed beaches, dogs licking ice-cream or attractive blonde girls in bikinis in the park.

Additionally, the air conditioning comments are correct - newly-built offices and shops are being constructed with it built in, but the majority of houses do not have it at all, because the British attitude to air-con is 'why not just open a window?' So the temperature here feels hotter than it might in the US or Malaga.

Quite often, a 'heatwave' in the London-based press didn't make it to the NW England town I lived in. My SO is Scottish, and even though he grew up in the more temperate south of the country, he finds SE England very hot. I have to keep reminding him that going outdoors in this weather will give him beetroot-face.
posted by mippy at 7:12 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking as someone who lives in a place with 40°C summers and -40°C winters, yes, there is a definite difference between 20° and 30° (40°, positive or negative, is really an extreme). At 20°C, you can get away from the heat simply by standing in the shade; a good breeze plus sunshade will provide enough cooling to ease some symptoms of heat exhaustion. At 30° and above, there is literally nowhere to go. The air itself is too hot to allow you to cool off, even when there is a breeze moving (which there usually isn't). The only thing that really cools you is either indoors in climate control or dousing yourself in water to allow evaporation to help.

As well, at temperatures of 30°C and above, you don't get an evening cooldown; when it's only 20°, typically it will cool down comfortably during the night, but those extra ten degrees mean that you are going to be spending the night drenched in sweat, unable to breathe because the air feels like a chewy oven. And, of course, it will not take long to warm up the next day, so there literally is no relief, and the heat stress is prolonged.

How do people handle this in hot climates? In my experience, it takes a little longer to acclimate to hot temperatures than cold temperatures, perhaps because it's usually easier to warm up than cool down. I assume that people who live in year-round heat with no climate control not only use their infrastructure and time management to handle the "don't make me move, I can't breathe when the air is a living furnace inside me" times of the year, but they've also acclimated physically, whereas a body living in a cold/temperate climate simply doesn't have the time to adjust to the sudden (short) heatwave.
posted by Nyx at 8:31 AM on July 16, 2013


Mumbaites would have problems in the 'serious cold', but that begs the converse question. What's serious cold? 15C or 5C or -5C?

I have an answer for this, because I once worked on a Bollywood movie that shot on location in New York in the autumn.

Mumbaites think anything below about 25C is cold weather. Our Indian crew absolutely FREAKED at the sight of snow. While they didn't seem physiologically unable to bear the cold (and, again, they perceived anything below sweltering as cold), they did seem psychologically unable to deal with it. They bundled up far beyond what was strictly necessary. They complained constantly. The production actually provided heavy coats to the Indian crew, despite the fact that it was only what Americans would consider "heavy coat weather" in one or two unseasonably cold weeks at the very end of the job.

I'll also say that, as an American who has been to India in the winter, in my experience (most*) Indians have a very different assessment of what "cold" is compared to what I would consider cold. I remember drinking tea on someone's sunny terrace in Pune, wearing a short sleeved light cotton shirt, and being regaled about what a frigid winter we were having.

And then I went to Darjeeling in February. While it was only 5C -- a perfectly ordinary temperature back in the US -- I perceived it as being absolutely frigid. This was partially because I hadn't packed for such cold weather, but also because nothing in Darjeeling is heated. I was staying in a bitter cold hotel. From which I would go outside (freezing cold), and then into a restaurant or cafe (also unheated). I drank more tea that week than I ever had in my whole life, because the only way to be warm was to heat up internally. I think I spent more time in cafes in Darjeeling than I spent actually seeing the sights.

So, yeah. The way people perceive temperatures has much more to do with local infrastructure, what they have access to, what the local lifestyle is like, and what they're otherwise used to than it has to do with physiology.

*I'd assume that people living in the high Himalayas have a different internal thermometer, and from what I understand Delhi, Punjab, etc do get quite a bit colder than other parts of the country.
posted by Sara C. at 8:41 AM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can speak a bit to the reverse - I have lived in Toronto, Canada on and off for the last 10 years or so, and it certainly gets well down into the negative celsius temps in winter. Of course, everyone is prepared for it. A few years ago I lived in Hong Kong - I arrived on New Year's Day, and flipped on the TV in the place I was staying to be informed that there was a winter "cold alert" going on, and the govt had opened up a few shelters - the temperature was going to plunge to about 3 degrees celsius.

I laughed my ass off of course, for the exact same reason you posted in this question - I had just arrived from somewhere that was -15. However, I woke up at 3 am that night absolutely shivering in bed to the point where I had to sleep in a coat and hat, because the building I was in was completely uninsulated to the cold and had no central heating.

So yeah, this isn't about absolute temperatures, but rather about temperatures relative to the majority of the infrastructure of the country.
posted by modernnomad at 8:42 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


My daughter-in-law is Hawaiian. The temperature range on Oahu is quite narrow (in a really, really, perfect way). When she lived with me in Maine for a while, she had a really hard time dealing with cool temps that I was comfortable in, and I hate being cold. It's partly in the mind - cold can be painful until you acclimate. She didn't really grasp how to dress - go out without socks in cold weather and you'll be cold, etc. She also had a hard time with temps over about 33C, especially with humidity. Maine has been having lots of heat and humidity, and the humidity really makes it nasty - you sweat, but it just makes you wet, doesn't dry and cool you off because the air is saturated.
posted by Mom at 9:37 AM on July 16, 2013


I think a lot of it is cultural. When I was visiting the UK, people did not seem to know what to do in the hotter weather. They would open their curtains and let the sun stream in all day and heat up the house, but then their windows didn't open much to let out the heat. Few houses are airconditioned, and when I was there I was surprised to find a large number of shops and even a small shopping mall had no air conditioning, though it was an older complex and newer buildings did seem to have them.

As a comparison, I used to live on the edge of a desert in Australia, day time temps of 40c+ for weeks on end were not unusual and we didn't have air conditioning, but our house and life style were built around keeping cool it was also a very very dry heat. I am currently living in Indiana where it has hit already 30C today, I saw the temp and thought I'll do some gardening but the humidity is about a billionty % right now and the heat I can handle but the humidity is a bitch, for the first time in my life I am running air conditioning regularly basically to keep the moisture out of the air in the house.

As a side note while I was last in the UK the papers were worrying about drought as it hadn't rained in 2 weeks, I lived in a city that had severe water restrictions because multi year drought. A lot of it is really what you are used to, but also what your countries infra structure is designed to handle, Australia often has hot temps and not much rain so it has houses designed for lots of shade and big water reservoirs. The UK has pretty mild temps considering and regular rain, so the infrastructure is set up for that.
posted by wwax at 9:51 AM on July 16, 2013


I used to work in a big stone building without A/C. It had been a very wealthy home, and had a big central staircase. We would open windows about 1/2 way on the 1st & 2nd floors, and fully on the top floor. You could stand in the stairway and feel the moving air, and the stack effect cooled the building appreciably. The prevalence of central air conditioning/heat and marketing-dominance in the US means that houses are often poorly designed to deal with cold and heat efficiently. My current house stays pretty warm in winter, so I like the south-facing windows, but as the climate changes, heat is more of an issue. I have big umbrellas on the deck, acting as awnings, but it's not enough.
posted by theora55 at 10:03 AM on July 16, 2013


My mother and I spent a month in Shrewsbury in the UK during the summer of...2003, I think, which had record-setting high temperatures. I recall media reports of roads melting and train tracks warping in the heat, which played havoc with parts of the infrastructure.

We're from Texas, which can get as hot as or hotter than Mumbai (but with less humidity), and we were miserable. Part of it was that we'd packed for a typical English summer--the high temps didn't hit until a day or two after we arrived--so we had to buy all new clothes in order not to court heatstroke. That's not really an option if you live there, don't have much money, and spent it on clothing for the winter.

And part of it was, as others have pointed out, that the buildings were built to conserve heat, so that they had no air conditioning for the most part, and accumulated the heat over the day. It was miserable, especially in restaurants, even with all the fans in Shrewsbury sold out and deployed in every building that could get their hands on them. We slept with the windows open in our hotel rooms, but as they were on the top floor of an old building, all the heat of the day had collected there and the windows were tiny, so as to not let heat out, and the rooms didn't cool down until sometime past midnight.

(I also recall the news being full of reports of flies swarming inside houses, because everyone had to keep the windows open and nobody had screens to keep insects out. I figured that I could have made a killing by bringing a roll of screen and a staple gun!)
posted by telophase at 10:34 AM on July 16, 2013


It's pretty much melodramatics, people like to complain about the weather whatever kind it is. Too grey, too rainy, too cold, too hot etc etc
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:42 AM on July 16, 2013


When I was in law school a little class argument we had about the necessity of heat and A/C for people in poverty (apropos of a discussion about welfare benefits) led to a similar question and a bunch of research by students in the class. What we found (in our informal little research) was that, in the U.S. and Canada, when cities open heating or cooling shelters is heavily dependent upon local intuitions about what constitutes "too cold" and "too hot." There was some correlation between illness/death statistics and infrastructure, but it was easy to find three nearby towns with the same demographics where one was built in the 1890s, for the weather, no A/C; one was built in the 1940s, standardized tract housing NOT for the weather, no A/C; and one was built in the 1980s, not for the weather, yes A/C, and there would be no real difference among them in terms of illnesses and deaths from extreme heat.

We found that Atlanta would open its cold shelters when it was like 45*F; Nashville it had to be 40*F; Indianapolis it had to be 35*; Detroit it had to be 30*F; Edmonton it had to be 20*F, and so on. (I have made these numbers up to illustrate rather than look them all up again, but you get the idea.) What was interesting is that there would be studies by local government and state health officials examining how hot and how cold it had to get for local deaths due to weather to start increasing, and there would be recommendations for hot- and cold-weather actions based on those temperatures, but the local government units in possession of that data still made their decisions not based on when people actually get ill but on what intuitively felt "too hot" or "too cold" to local people. In fact, if a local government wanted to take action on extreme heat deaths (this was the more common scenario), they would have to do a big PR push to convince people that instead of it being "100*F is uncomfortable, but you'll survive," (as your parents doubtless told you as a child if you live in a place it gets that hot), it was "100*F is dangerous for the elderly, ill, and infants," and therefore it was NOT a waste of tax dollars to run cooling shelters at 95*F instead of 105*F, even if people's intuition is that it's not "too hot" unless it's over 105. Or whatever.

My point is, local infrastructure and common weather DOES make a difference (Atlanta shuts down when it snows even a little because THEY HAVE NO PLOWS and their school busses aren't insured to drive on snow! And there is no damn insulation on buildings down there), and local people's ability to deal with the weather matters (witnesses all the AskMe questions like, "I am moving from Florida to Minneapolis and afraid I will die" and people are like "I have scarf tips for you! Try this! You'll be warm!"), but a lot of it IS not so much melodramatics but local intuitions about what "too hot" and "too cold" is, and even with very good evidence and data in front of them, people still have a "feeling" about when it's too hot or too cold.

But yes, I was pretty amused during Wimbledon when the announcers kept talking about this "brutal" 85*F heat, which, I know, England is beloved of God and has extremely pleasant temperatures so they're not used to that kind of heat, but it was 85 for us the same day on the other side of the pond and we were like "IT'S SO COOL AND PLEASANT OUT!" (after a week in the 90s with humidity). It was hard not to snicker a little because the announcers did seem a little overwrought about it. But that's part of the fun of different parts of the world -- they're different! And we can be quietly amused by these little cultural differences because they are charming.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:47 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know someone in the UK who is in (the) hospital right now for a surgical procedure. It's 38 C inside her recovery room. I can't even imagine how miserable that would be!
posted by wintersweet at 11:07 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


One thing that I think Eyebrows McGee's law school classmates didn't consider is that, in local government, the important thing is meeting the needs of local people, not empirical standards of whether it is medically dangerous for people at X or Y temperature. Yes, cities that open heating shelters at 45F rather than 20F probably "waste" money providing a service that isn't strictly necessary for public health. However, by doing this they win the trust of local communities and keep the peace.

Also, a lot of the hyperbolizing that happens in situations like the UK right now isn't necessarily connected to government response so much as it is connected to other public responses like the media, collective perceptions, and actions taken by local businesses. In those cases, it's not really about how best to use money in a budget or quantifiable public health issues as much as it's about what a community tells itself about the world. It costs my local SPCA nothing to remind facebook followers of precautions to take with pets in extreme heat. But it makes them look like they're engaged in the community, and it's important information that people feel reassured by, even if it's statistically unlikely that one's dog will die of heat exposure when it's 80F outside.

"It's much hotter in Mumbai right now" isn't really useful information on a community level, is I guess what I'm saying.
posted by Sara C. at 11:38 AM on July 16, 2013


I found this question really interesting esp in regards to physiological effects. I've lived in some really different climates over my lifetime, the Caribbean, Las Vegas, New England, and visited others. I thought about the answer to this and think that each time we moved it took about 9 mos or so for my body to acclimatise to the different weather. Moving to the Caribbean from CT in the winter is a no brainer but moving from the Caribbean to Las Vegas was harder then I thought. The differences in humidity really did a number on my nasal passages and my skin was miserable. Yet I gave birth to one of my kids there on a day it was 122 F/50C and it wasn't that bad. I know my kids had a very hard time moving to CT from Las Vegas and were always complaining at first about how cold it was and then how hot it was. I think a gradual change is easier on the body but in the UK's case where it's much hotter then people are used to and not culturally prepared, I could see why this is so devastating.
posted by lasamana at 1:12 PM on July 16, 2013


The danger is hyperthermia, and it's real. In Montreal there's usually a couple of cases among firefighters each summer.

You use two ways to get rid of the heat: vasodilatation of the blood vessels near to your skin, and sweating.
Sweating means dehydration; it's especially common with older people, who have less sensibility to thirst. Vasodilation means more blood flow, which means a larger demand on the heart. If the heart can't cope, you get low blood pressure, possibly causing loss of consciousness. People with cardiovascular problems are obviously more vulnerable.

The more active you are, the more energy (heat) your body produces, from around 70 W at sleep to over 500 W for intense and fast work. That's a bit less than 300 W/m2 to dissipate through your skin. At the current conditions in London, 33 °C and 64% RH, the wet bulb temperature, that is the coldest your skin can get through evaporation, is 27 °C, which is only a 10 °C differential; compare to the approx. 17 °C differential you would have at the "hot" 27 °C and 50% RH of Wimbledon.

You also have acclimatization: after 8-12 days in hot and humid weather, people start producing more sweat with less salt in it. You lose it after around 8 days of non exposure though.

So the advantage of people in Mumbai vs London: as others have said, adapted clothes and built environment. Adapted way of life and work. They might get caught from time to time, but people in Mumbai actually know what it's like to work in high heat. They also have year-long acclimatization. And finally, but this is conjecture, their heart must take the vasodilation as a "base load", since it occurs almost daily for them, a bit like people's cardivascular system gets used to the thin air when they live at a high altitude.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:29 PM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am an English person, living in the not-quite-deep American South, but who was back in the UK very recently and saw the rain give way into an unexpectedly balmy summer. A few uncomfortable evenings had me pining for ceiling fans, something most people consider "unnecessary" (true most of the time) or "dangerous" (well, if you jump up from beneath one of them.)

Yes, it's cultural, yes, the British like to complain about the weather, but that temperate little island is set up to work within a fairly narrow well-established operating temperature. The relative rarity of < -10C or > 30C days means that there aren't institutional standard practices -- or more importantly, social ones -- to deal with it well, even though the British can usually cope with extremes of hot and cold when they go to places where those extremes are more commonplace.

London, in particular, suffers from this, because it relies upon a combination of institutional infrastructure and semi-conscious social coordination -- so, you get the urban heat island effect, unventilated public transport, commuter delays, the swelling of the city with tourists, and ffs, all the pubs are packed so you can't even get a pint. That's to say, people get irritable and feel helpless and that creates its own vicious circle.

(It is 29C right now where I am in the US, indoor without A/C. I really do not want another couple of months of this, even though it is not an Atlanta-style muggy 35C.)
posted by holgate at 2:48 PM on July 16, 2013


What's serious cold? 15C or 5C or -5C?

Ah, see now--you're illustrating the very point you're asking about. Serious cold doesn't start until, say, -30C to -40C*. So w-a-y below the supposedly seriously cold temperatures you list. In fact, all the temperatures you list are well within run-of-the-mill stays-in-this-range-for-months-on-end-every-single-year-in-very-huge-sections-of-the-populated-world-no-big-surprise-here territory.

But -30 to -40: That's when the fluid in your car battery freezes solid, your car won't start even though its hooked up to an engine heater to keep it warm, your ordinary 'heavy duty' automobile antifreeze starts to freeze up--sometimes even right while the car is running--, the water pipes in your house start to freeze up even though they are theoretically inside insulated, heated spaces, etc etc etc.

But again, it's all relative. If you're set up to deal with temperatures in the -20C to 0C range for weeks to months every year, you'll probably find a blast of -40C air a bit surprising and hard to deal with.

On the other hand, if you regularly see temperatures in the -40s, then it will probably take something much colder yet to throw you for a loop.

FYI: -40C=-40F. That's the only temperature where the Celcius number equals the Fahrenheit number.
posted by flug at 3:30 PM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Snow is different because that, umm, blankets the physical transport medium a.k.a roads

We had temperatures in the low 90s (low 30s C) recently here, near Seattle. Tar started melting on one of the main roads through town, and the library had to call the fire department 11 times because the mulch kept catching fire.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:30 PM on July 17, 2013


Tar started melting on one of the main roads...

To be clear, I've never heard of that phenomenon happening here.
posted by Gyan at 10:01 PM on July 17, 2013


This has some links to and photos of melting tarmac from last summer's heat wave. When I lived in D.C. the WaPo looooovrd the topic of heat melting tarmac, especially if it came with photos of women in high heels sinking in. I have never personally seen melting that bad but I have seen heat waves that make it soft and people go bounce on it because, hey, squishy road! Of course I bounced too. Very odd sensation.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:45 PM on July 17, 2013


You might be interested in this article on the BBC Magazine monitor of ten reasons why Britain is ill-equipped for the heat.
posted by Wysawyg at 3:37 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I think some of this media attention is because we have had a very long, cold spring, and a dark and grey May and June - people were wearing coats and scarves three weeks ago. I used to live in Manchester, which is further north and colder/rainier, and in the winter I'd get patches of eczema on the backs of my knees. It was so cold up until late April that I was getting them then, which has never happened before. I think people are also getting a bit giddy about the summer finally arriving.
posted by mippy at 4:10 AM on July 18, 2013


mippy: "Also, I think some of this media attention is because we have had a very long, cold spring, and a dark and grey May and June - people were wearing coats and scarves three weeks ago. I used to live in Manchester, which is further north and colder/rainier, and in the winter I'd get patches of eczema on the backs of my knees. It was so cold up until late April that I was getting them then, which has never happened before. I think people are also getting a bit giddy about the summer finally arriving."

Yes, plus, we haven't had a decent summer since 2006, i.e. more than a couple of consecutive weeks of warm temperatures and sun.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:30 AM on July 18, 2013


> To be clear, I've never heard of that phenomenon happening here

I believe asphalt has different formulas depending on the climate. It looks like it was 93 °F (34 °C) degrees the day that happened here.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:12 AM on July 18, 2013


People learn to adjust their lives, sometimes almost imperceptibly, in response to regular weather conditions. Lots of people in this thread are talking about the lack of AC in the UK, but even in places that don't usually have air conditioning but get reliably hot, people cope just as second nature. They have the right clothes, they eat and drink cooling foods, they work more slowly in the afternoon (or not at all), they go swimming, take cold showers, seek out breezes and shaded places. In the Bay Area where the average house doesn't have AC, people are vigilant about closing shades during the day and opening widows at night during any heat wave. When I stayed with a British friend in his top floor flat in Berlin, it didn't really occur to him to close the blinds on his many skylights during a heatwave. It's physiological adaption and learned behavioral responses, as well as infrastructure.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:10 PM on July 19, 2013


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