Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hot Town, Summer In The City (And Everywhere Else)

When there's frost on the shrubbery and a thin layer of ice on the lily pond it's easy for my mind to wander to Thailand and walks I've enjoyed in the Isaan countryside on a warm evening, the cicadas and crickets joined in a droning chorus to accompany the lowing of cattle in the distance.

However, the digital thermometer's ticking its way up to 100F/38C again on the Summer Solstice today - the longest day of the year - and there's neither a cloud in the sky nor a whisper of breeze to offer any relief from the heat whatsoever. My only consolation during our Summer 90s is that at this same time of year it's likely to be in the 90s/30sC with a decent chance of rain and thunderstorms in many parts of Thailand, too. When the heat gets up over 104F/40C even the locals slow down. The heat takes its toll on everyone, such as the young man in Nong Khai in the picture here to the left who couldn't even muster a smile for me.

On days like today I find myself fighting the siren song of a nap like the man in the top photo is enjoying. He'd sought shade and slumber at the Saphan Taksin riverboat station one hot and muggy afternoon.

The combination of heat and humidity can make it unpleasant to be out and around and that, dear readers, is why this is called "Low Season" in Thailand (roughly from May to October). It's hot. And humid. That, coupled with the regular torrential rain that often briefly graces the afternoon or evening encourages more people to visit during High Season (November into April). Naturally, tropical depressions and storms passing over Southeast Asia in general can bring more and longer-lasting rain during low season, but we're primarily dealing with the heat today.

Other than what I've mentioned above there's no reason not to visit Thailand now. There are less crowds, hotel rates are lower, shows are easier to get in to see and air fares can be lower from some countries. I've been there during low season a number of times, myself. You have to plan your days differently and pay attention to the effects weather can have on both them and you.

Heat and humidity can join forces to make things more than unpleasant for folks - especially those of us who are used to a more temperate climate - and can actually have a debilitating (and sometimes deadly) effect. Long time readers may remember an early story here about the importance of staying hydrated, and it's just as important on a cloudy, very warm humid day as it is on the sunny scorchers - as running low on fluids can creep up on you; maybe even more so, since it's easier to lose track when the sun's not beating directly down on you.

The table below will give you a pretty good idea of how to gauge whats known as the heat index, and while you're not likely to carry it with you on vacation you can make mental note and try to think of it when you're hurrying off someplace on a hot and muggy day. It could save you losing a day or so in bed, sick.

I found a source that better explains it than I can, so I'm going to borrow their description:

"The heat index is the 'feels like', or apparent, temperature. As relative humidity increases, the air seems warmer than it actually is because the body is less able to cool itself via evaporation of perspiration. As the heat index rises, so do health risks. When the heat index is 90°-105°F, heat exhaustion is possible. When it is above 105°F, it is probable. Heatstroke is possible when the heat index is above 105°F, and very likely when it is 130°F and above. Physical activity and prolonged exposure to the heat increase the risks."

The symptoms of heat exhaustion are headaches, dizziness, nausea, cool or clammy skin, weakness, paleness, muscle cramping and a lot of perspiring. Get thee to a cooler spot and drink something with a pinch of salt in it to help you retain it, or try a sports drink like Gatorade. With care and rest you'll probably pull out of this on your own. If you keep pushing yourself, you're liable to end up collapsing with heatstroke.

The symptoms of heatstroke are similar, except that the skin is hot and dry, not clammy; you may have the chills, your pulse will be quicker (even at rest), your temperature is likely to be 101F or higher and you've stopped sweating. THAT'S a dangerous spot to be in. Seek medical attention if you find yourself in this condition. If this progresses it can lead to confusion, falling into a coma, or death. Not something you want to entertain while on holiday, I'd wager.

One last thing: remember, you don't need the sun or daylight to dehydrate yourself. As I write this it's 03:00 in Bangkok and at 84F/28.8C my guess is it does "feel like" its heat index number of 90F/32.2C.

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