Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

You think this is hot? The US heatwave has nothing on the UAE summer

Still, we're all going to die

People enjoy the Astoria Pool on a hot afternoon in the borough of Queens, New York City, on July 20, 2019. The US is sweating through a weekend of hot weather, with major cities including New York and Washington bracing for temperatures close to 38 degrees Celsius. Photo: Johannes Eisele / AFP
People enjoy the Astoria Pool on a hot afternoon in the borough of Queens, New York City, on July 20, 2019. The US is sweating through a weekend of hot weather, with major cities including New York and Washington bracing for temperatures close to 38 degrees Celsius. Photo: Johannes Eisele / AFP

Large parts of the US were hit by a heatwave this month, with temperatures reaching 38°C in cities from the Midwest to New England. The New York City power grid collapsed, leaving thousands stranded in the Subway. Newspapers consulted their thesauruses for new ways to say “hot”: “searing”, “scorching”, “sweltering”, “baking” and “sweaty”, with one masterstroke of unoriginality resulting in “already sweaty”.

It was 38°C with humidity. In other words, an average day for much of the year in the UAE.

As much as the temperatures, what was shocking about the US heatwave was people’s amazement that they might have to adapt to them. While no one in the UAE is happy to see the mercury rise above 40, everyone knows what to do. If you want to go to the beach, scramble for the early morning, or saunter down after 4pm. Double-check if plans are indoors or outdoors. Expect air conditioning and dress for two climates: arctic and climate emergency.

When I was a member of the British Club in Abu Dhabi, cooling our cars became a team effort. Mums would take turns switching on the air conditioning in one another’s cars – a ritual you would see in the early afternoon before school pick-up. One designated mother with five sets of keys would dart from SUV to SUV.

But the idea of a day ruled by the temperature outside hasn’t fully dawned on the US yet. Something of the expression “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun” hung about this past weekend’s heatwave conversations.

“I’m just going to have to stay inside in the middle of the day. It’s just too humid to go out!”

Well, yes.

“I had turn on the air conditioning in my car 15 minutes before I drove. The steering wheel was too hot to touch!”

Yeah, obviously.

“It’s so hot outside, but the shops are so cold inside …”

It was like the world had gone mad. But, as with most shifts because of the climate, the changes – appreciable in one’s own lifetime – are ultimately chilling. My family and I are staying at my parents’ house in south-western Connecticut, by a lake that used to be a valley. It was flooded in the Great Depression to provide hydroelectric power for New York City, and in the winter, when the water level is depressed, you can still see the stone foundations and chimneys of the 18th-century farms that once stood there.

Small communities sprang up after the lake emerged, with weekend houses for those in the city. The area is friendly and unpretentious: most of us grew up here in the summers, and head down the same paths to the same beaches, as we did 20 years ago, but in steadily growing footwear sizes. It’s hot in the day, cool at night, and as New Englanders, we think we’re used to extreme weather.

But two weekends ago, when my children and I reached the beach in the afternoon, it was like someone had shaken a carpet into the water: children, parents, surly teenagers, cheery twentysomethings and grey-haired grandparents had all migrated into the lake.

They were bobbing up and down like fishing floats, nary an open patch of water between them. “It’s too hot to be on the sand!” a friend yelled to me, her voice choked in panic. I shrugged. My children put on long-sleeve rash guards and idled into the water. They’re better swimmers than most and were quickly in the deep end.

By 5pm, the rest of the beach had crawled home, defeated by four hours in the sun in the hottest hours, and it was only us and one other family – that of a Navy captain who had done a two-year stint in Bahrain. They’d arrived late, too, and brought extra shade.

My husband and the captain traded some gallows humour about the weather. “Going for a run later?”

“I’ll wait until it warms up.”

But neither left the shade of their umbrellas – and no one really laughed.

Updated: July 25, 2019 05:40 PM

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