By Claudia Gualdi; Contributors: Farhan Rafi, Baya Faure, and Lorena Peña
Weather forecasts have correctly predicted 2023 as another exceptionally hot summer, with record-high global temperatures recorded every day for the first week of July alone. Heatwaves have become a widespread phenomenon worldwide increasing in frequency and duration, and their serious effects are visible on nature through wildfires and droughts. Hot temperatures increasingly play a greater role in travel plans, boosting off-season tourism, but also raise health concerns for travellers.
What are heatwaves
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) defines heatwaves as “five or more consecutive days during which the daily maximum temperature surpasses the average maximum temperature by 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) or more”. Some countries have adopted their own standards and definitions. In July 2022, officials in Seville named for the first time “Heat Wave Zoe”, the world’s first-ever heatwave event to officially be named like hurricanes.
Right now, the Pacific Ocean is moving out of the cold phase of La Niña and into the hot El Niño phase. This transition is having a massive impact on global weather patterns. It causes disruptions in travel due to road damage from flooding and landslides, flight disruptions, and health concerns for travellers, due to a surge in diseases such as cholera and dengue fever.
At Riskline, we have recently analysed the global effects of El Niño; 2024 is already forecasted to be the world’s hottest year on record, surpassing 2023. Experts have forecasted a 60% chance for a transition from El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-neutral to El Niño between May and July, increasing to 70% between June and August and 80% between July and September. In other words: be ready to face intense and prolonged record-breaking temperatures and more powerful storm systems that occur more frequently and with greater intensity.
Where to expect heatwaves in summer 2023
According to the latest data published by Copernicus, temperatures registered in Europe in May 2023 were already wetter than average, and they’re expected to further heat up, reaching over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Droughts, forest fires and heavy rainfall are often generated by heatwaves. Tourism to Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and Greece is adversely affected by climate change and unpredictable weather conditions. Tourism in Spain may soon be the most impacted by severe heat, according to a recent survey. More than 15 million United Kingdom (UK) residents travelled to Spain every year before the COVID-19 pandemic, but nearly two-thirds (65 percent) are concerned that it will be too warm by 2027. An estimated 61,000 people may have died in heatwaves last year in Europe alone.
Heatwaves this summer have already seen temperatures climb to 53 degrees Celsius (127 Fahrenheit) in California’s Death Valley and over 52 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) in China’s northwest. They have coincided with wildfires from Greece to the Swiss Alps and deadly flooding in India and South Korea.
Summer temperatures have soared in recent years also in the Middle East, hitting an average of 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, resulting in continuous drought, particularly in Iraq. The Israeli weather service has warned about heatwaves as well, with temperatures likely to reach up to 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit). Recently, the extreme heat has led to frequent power outages in the country. Wildfires and severe heat have also increasingly affected North Africa, as normally extreme heat hit Morocco and Algeria earlier than usual in the year.
The sweltering heat is detrimental to aircraft performance, hindering air travellers with delays and cancellations, especially with the forecasted summer heatwaves in the US. Caribbean beaches are best to visit between December and April, depending on the islands. According to the CariCOF, temperatures are forecasted to be higher than usual due to severe heat and humidity. The frequency of heatwaves will ramp up by August when the region approaches the peak of the annual heat season, which runs from April to October. Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Panama have also recently registered an increase in temperatures and heat waves.
Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have seen recent extreme heat that wreaked havoc in urban areas, such as Bangkok, where temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) prompting stay-at-home advisories, and Hanoi, where heatwaves triggered power outages and planned blackouts. Continuous extreme heat also has an adverse effect on water supplies, especially in Southeast Asia. Weather agencies in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India and Bangladesh routinely issue warnings and alerts for heatwaves.
How to prepare – Riskline Travel tips
Heatwaves are increasingly linked to public health concerns. In high temperatures, the human body is vulnerable to heat illness, the body’s inability to cope with extreme heat. Some of the most common symptoms are exhaustion, cramps and even strokes. Extreme heat conditions can be life-threatening during outdoor excursions and hikes in the sun for prolonged times. In April 2023, 11 people died in India, and over 600 others were injured due to heatstroke. Also, at least 13 people were killed in a heatwave across the southern United States (US) in June. Despite the risk, heat-related illnesses are preventable. If you’re planning to travel between July and September, be prepared to face high temperatures:
Monitor local weather conditions
Download a weather forecast app on your smartphone before travelling. The Accuweather app has different tools and widgets such as heat maps with predictions, emergency and weather alerts and air quality statistics, among others. Real-time alerts can also help you to prevent severe weather conditions while travelling. We provide up-to-date reports when authorities warn of heatwaves and extreme heat.
Packing according to the destination and the season is crucial. The internet offers a multitude of ready-to-download checklists for packing. Did you know that ChatGPT can alternatively serve as an optional tool for checking travel essentials? Be sure to pack reusable water bottles (some come with rechargeable filters) and SPF protection 50 or higher to be applied every two hours at least. Opt for light-coloured and loose-fitting clothes, breathable and comfortable footwear, cover your head and wear sunglasses with UV protection.
Experience slow travel
The slow traveller approach emphasises connection to local people, cultures, food and music rather than rushing from one sightseeing location to the next. Stay indoors when outdoor temperatures are soaring. Observe a well-balanced diet and limit alcohol consumption, as digestion generates additional heat, especially with hard-to-digest food. Parks, museums, and churches are venues where travellers can take advantage of a cool environment and experience local culture.
Pay attention to adverse weather conditions at your final destination or layover stops. Consider rebooking flights if you have a flexible schedule. And buy travel insurance to ensure you can make the change without paying any fare difference. Postpone your vacations in autumn to avoid extreme heat. European Travel Commission (ETC) data shows the number of people hoping to travel to the Mediterranean region between June and November has already fallen 10% compared to last year, due to the droughts and wildfires occurring in the region.
- City Mapper: In addition to helping you get around several major cities of the world, it also has a new interesting feature for the City of London.
- The TripWhistle iOs app provides emergency numbers for firefighters, medical personnel and police in nearly 200 countries, making it easier for tourists who do not know the local language.
- Several cities in the US have “cooling centers”, which are spaces adapted for high temperatures. These can be easily located through state websites or by contacting a state’s directory assistance hotline at telephone numbers 211, 311 or 411.