A road sign in Liwa. Photo: Phil Weston

The Heat Is On: Summer in the Gulf
Aaron Noah M.

I’ve lived in a few hot places.  I grew up in sunny California and I enjoyed three years in Greece soaking up the Mediterranean rays.  Even the two summers I spent in New Zealand were toasty because of a gaping hole in the ozone.  On holiday trips around the world I’ve discovered still hotter places such as Nevada, Cyprus, Egypt, and Thailand. And so far, nothing compares to the sizzling, sweltering, scorching, sweat-in-your-britches summers of the Middle East.  For three months out of the year, residents here in the Gulf hunker down in air-conditioned safety, waiting for the summer cauldron to finish boiling the landscape.

Temperatures of 38C (100F) to 45C (113F) are common from June to August, with a few stretches of 50C plus (122F+) to really spice things up.  Most people can imagine those numbers for a desert region, but would you also believe that we have 80-90% humidity as well?  It’s a miracle that the locals could endure the summers before the advent of air-con.

It gets so hot that certain aspects of life get turned upside down.  Water pipes running under the streets and on the outside of buildings get well cooked, so by the time the liquid reaches your “cold” tap it is…well, piping hot.  The only way to get cold water is to turn OFF the hot water tank and let it cool down.  Now the “hot” tap produces cold water and the “cold” tap is steaming hot.

Summer is also one of the rare times in Dubai when I have to wear a jacket.  Once the mercury starts rising outside, people controlling the thermostats in public buildings all seem to adopt the same strategy: crank up the AC until the interior space is like a refrigerator.  Who needs Ski Dubai when my office is like a winter wonderland?  Walking in from extreme heat to extreme cold is a horrible shock to your body, usually resulting in  folks getting sick during the first week of hot weather. To combat the situation I keep a coat at my desk and a sweatshirt in my car, always prepared for the next AC cold front.

The summer heat is predictably uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous.  Many people don’t realize how much water and salt their body is losing in the hot weather.  In cool temperate zones the human body generally requires about 2.5 liters of water to function, so fluid requirements here in Gulf are generally more, depending on how much time you’re exposed to the sun.

In July a friend of mine worked outside for several hours without drinking enough water.  He went home feeling tired, but otherwise fine, not realizing he was already starting to suffer from heat stroke.  He woke up in the middle of the night with severe muscle cramps, fever, and nausea; this is what happens when the body doesn’t have enough water to operate and starts to shut down.  Luckily he managed to get his temperature cooled down and fluids (some kind of salty hydration medication from the pharmacy) back into his system, just in time to save himself an emergency trip to the hospital.

Swimming Pool

Winter in the UAE

You may now be thinking, why on earth live there?  Yes, for three months we do get a wicked roasting, but if you can survive that, the rest of the year is sublime.  When my friends in the US and Europe are complaining about the endless days of grey skies and rain, I tell them about spending my “winter” lounging next to the pool or playing at the beach.

Our summer is much like anyone else’s winter: you’re stuck indoors until the weather gets better.