Travelers from the UK, US and other parts of the world may be concerned about planned trips to the Mediterranean.
As the busiest summer holiday route of 2019 gets under way, travelers to southern Europe are likely to experience extreme heat. An area of high pressure appears to have settled over the Med and shows little sign of abating.
The deadly heat wave “Charon” (so named by Italian meteorologists) is hitting southern France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey, as well as smaller countries in the Mediterranean region.
With forecasters predicting the heat wave could last for up to two weeks, there are growing concerns about the health risks. As The Independent reported this week, 61,000 Europeans are believed to have died as a result of extreme heat last summer.
For travelers considering their options, these are the key questions and answers.
Where are the hottest spots?
Temperatures around the Mediterranean are usually 8-13C above normal – which means that at this time of year, temperatures are very high by UK standards.
On July 18th, holidaymakers heading to the Spanish island of Mallorca faced a “high risk”.
Spanish state meteorological office, aemetreported that a temperature of 44.8C in Llubi, just north of the center of the Balearic Islands, met a thermal sensation of 48C.
The official rating was “Real risk”, although this was downgraded to “important risk” on 19 July.
However, other mainland Spanish holiday spots, including Alicante and Malaga, were issued with high risk warnings today, with temperatures of 42C predicted.
The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice for both Spain and Greecewith specific information about “extreme weather”, advising people to be aware of the latest developments from the Greek and Spanish authorities.
On Tuesday, Italy’s health ministry issued red weather alerts for 20 of the country’s 27 cities. This is expected to rise to 23 today. Yesterday, the temperature in Sardinia reached 44C, while Rome hit over 40C.
The Cyprus Meteorological Department says: “Maximum temperatures are expected to reach around 41 degrees Celsius over inland areas.”
Meanwhile, the staff at the Acropolis in Athens, and other ancient sites of Greece will stop working for four hours a day from Thursday in protest at working conditions during the heat. The country is currently hit by wildfires that started on Monday in the Dervenochoria region, 30km north of Athens. “We are living a nightmare,” said the mayor of Mandra, Christos Stathis. “Houses and properties are on fire.”
Outside the Mediterranean, severe heat warnings have been issued by the landlocked countries of Hungary and Serbia.
What are the health risks – and how can they be reduced?
Travelers young and old, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (particularly cardiovascular and respiratory) are particularly at risk of overheating.
The NHS Scotland Fit For Travel website warns: “High temperatures can cause fluid and salt loss.
“When the body is overheated, the blood is directed from the center of the body through the relaxation of the blood vessels, and this causes sweating and cooling.
“Rapid dehydration can occur in hot conditions. Humidity can reduce the rate of sweat evaporation, making it difficult to regulate body temperature.”
More serious disorders include:
- heat consumption
- heat stroke
- low sodium in the blood (hyponatremia) as a result of overexertion or exercise.
“Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are related conditions that can have serious consequences if not treated promptly. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include body temperature above 38C, rapid breathing and pulse, dizziness, headache and confusion.
“The heat can be sudden when travelers are not used to it. Fainting occurs when the blood vessels relax to increase circulation and radiate heat from the skin. This also has the effect of lowering the blood pressure and reducing the blood supply to the brain. Consciousness should return quickly when the person is lying alone.”
How can I reduce the risks?
Obvious steps include avoiding being outside during the hottest part of the day (usually 11am-3pm); wearing light, loose clothing and a hat; and drink plenty of water (perhaps with hydrated salts). Dark urine is a sure sign that you need to increase your fluid intake.
The NHS says: “Limit physical exertion until you have acclimatised, most travelers will adapt to higher temperatures in around 10 days.
“Clothes should be light and breathable – avoid wearing dark or tight clothing.
“A personal handheld fan can be invaluable when heat is unavoidable.”
Age UK offers advice specifically for older peopleincluding the potentially disappointing advice: “Avoid alcohol, and keep eating even if you don’t feel too hungry.”
If someone in my party is in a risk group, can I cancel the trip and get a full refund?
Not likely. If you have booked a package holiday it is always worth talking to the tour operator in case they have any flexibility, but they are under no legal obligation to allow you to transfer.
Under the Package Travel Regulations, you can transfer a valid package holiday to someone else for a nominal fee. For Tui, the fee is £25 per person and you must give one week’s notice; for easyJet Holidays, the limit is two days, again at a per person charge of £25.
Jet2 allows changes of £50 – but only within two weeks of departure, when it rises to £150. Changes can be made up to four hours before departure.
If you have a travel insurance policy where you already have a declared medical condition, you may have grounds for a claim – if a doctor advises you not to travel.
Will the extreme heat affect transport?
Maybe a lot. In the UK last July, when the country had its hottest period on record, rail services were severely reduced and many cancellations were made – due to concerns about steel rails buckling.
Although Mediterranean nations are prepared for much higher temperatures, experiencing unprecedented heat could disrupt some events.
Transport providers may also cancel some services to protect their staff.
What about aviation?
They have planes perfectly capable of taking off in all but the hottest temperatures – as they routinely do from Gulf and southwestern US airports. But high air temperatures require a higher take-off speed, which can affect the maximum take-off weight of an aircraft.
Extreme heat may increase the risk of thunderstorms in the Mediterranean region, affecting aviation as pilots avoid them.
Scientists say that as the world warms, the frequency of clean air turbulence – in which aircraft are knocked around, sometimes to the point of causing injuries – will increase.
Can you recommend an easy, cool escape?
Until at least Wednesday 19 July, northerly winds will keep Iceland below 15C. Even if the temperature rises afterwards, the highest temperature ever recorded in Iceland was 30C, in the summer of 1939.
The USA, Canada and the UK have a wide range of flights to Reykjavík, the capital.