ANOTHER depression is on its way across mainland Spain, bringing torrential rain to the east coast over tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday. The weather phenomenon known as a DANA (Isolated Depression at High Levels)...
Heatwave survival guide for you, your pets, your car...and your pocket
By thinkSPAIN Team Sat, Jun 29, 2019
AS MOST of Europe melts in temperatures of over 40ºC, for those who live in Spain, sweltering summer climes are not exactly something that catches them by surprise. But with this weekend and the early part of next week at least seeing the mercury rise to 43ºC in large parts of the country – 38 provinces are on weather alerts, and a handful in the land-locked north east on 'red' – a reminder of the usual advice about how to keep yourself and your pets safe does not go amiss.
The Red Cross has released its top eight recommendations, and animal experts have issued their own to keep dogs, cats and other creatures that form part of our families healthy.
Spaniards are reported to be eating more fresh fruit and vegetables when the mercury rises – which is good, because of the water content and cooling nature of these delicious foodstuffs, and is also a positive sign that household wealth is improving, since fresh produce and in particular fruit and veg are the first to go when you're struggling to make ends meet. But the same figures show Spaniards are tending to drink more alcohol in summer, which is a bad move. Alcohol dehydrates, as does caffeine of course, and the former causes stupor and headaches, exacerbating what the hot weather does anyway.
Unless you're very physically active, two litres per day is normally enough, although you can take it to two-and-a-half if you're sweating a lot, and herbal and fruit infusions without caffeine in them can form part of that daily allowance. At the same time, be careful of flooding your system – more than three litres a day is not recommended as it can lead to nutrient depletion.
Dress for the occasion
It's tempting to strip off to the socially-acceptable minimum at this time of year, but to keep the harmful UV ray off your skin and the flies and mosquitoes out, very lightweight clothing is better, as loose as possible to avoid discomfort, and in light colours, since darker colours attract the heat. Breathable footwear is also recommended both for comfort and to prevent unpleasant conditions such as athlete's foot caused by warmth and damp feeding bacteria. For driving, use footwear which is safe and comfortable and does not impede your being able to carry out an emergency stop, nor gets caught in pedals or mats – although it's not technically true that you can be fined for driving in flip-flops, you can indeed be fined if your footwear is a barrier, however small, to effective car control.
Don't move a muscle
Manual workers dread summer for obvious reasons, but if you're able to control your own hours, start as early as you can in the morning or work late at night, and try to avoid the middle part of the day. If you work outside, the UV rays are at their strongest at around 13.00 or 14.00, but specifically from 11.00 to 16.00, although the bit which feels the hottest is between around 16.00 and 18.00.
Sports persons should stick to the very-early-and-very-late régime, and those who fall into neither category should avoid lifting heavy shopping, DIY, gardening, housework or any other major physical efforts during the main daylight hours. Where you can't avoid physical exertion, drink water frequently and rest whenever your body calls for it. You can buy saline-glucose solutions from the pharmacy relatively cheaply, known as suero, either in powder form which dissolves in water or in liquid; these are quite pleasant to drink and help replace electrolytes lost through sweating.
Aside from the fact we don't burn as many calories when it's hot, and we want to look good in swimwear and in clothing that does not allow us to cover up parts which stay hidden in winter, eating small, lightweight meals comprising mostly fruit and salad vegetables helps beat the heat and stay hydrated. Larger meals, especially hot dishes, are likely to cause discomfort. Ice-cream will cool you down, so feel free to indulge. But do ensure you eat regularly; direct sunlight and an empty stomach are a recipe for feeling very ill when the thermometer shoots up.
If you come from a northern European country, you probably spent every short summer flinging open windows and doors to let the air in. It's not the same with the intense heat of a summer in Spain, or a Spain-like summer in a normally cool country; you should keep everything shut to stop the heat getting in, and only open your windows and patio doors at night. But be careful to only open inaccessible ones, to prevent intruders taking advantage of the season. Pull down blinds and shut curtains to block the sun's rays, too.
If you're fortunate enough to have air-conditioning, set it to between 23ºC and 26ºC. This may feel a little too warm the rest of the year, but any lower will be too sharp a contrast with the heat outside and could cause you to feel unwell – as well as using up high amounts of power which are harmful for the planet. The World Health Organisation recommends constant indoor temperatures year-round of approximately 24ºC – warm enough that you can walk around without clothes on, but cool enough that you can wear a suit without sweating.
Shut it out
Reduce contact with direct sunlight where you can – sunglasses prevent eye damage in later life, hats or cotton scarves prevent your head overheating (and stop the sun damaging your hair). Use high-factor sunscreen, and sit under umbrellas or awnings. If you do suffer sunburn, apply aloe vera, after-sun or both immediately afterwards, as well as cool water or ice-packs. Keep after-sun and aloe vera in the fridge or freezer to help cool and soothe ravaged skin.
And carry a hand-held fan to keep air flowing when you're nowhere near air-conditioning.
Stay out of the car
Never sit in a stationary car for more than about 10 minutes unless the air-conditioning is on – even with the windows open. Don't leave animals, children or the elderly in a parked car for any length of time, even seconds, because the temperature inside the vehicle is easily 10ºC higher than outside and, even at as low as 25ºC, heatstroke – which is regularly fatal – can set in within five or 10 minutes. If you see a child, pet or elderly person shut in a hot parked car, call the 112 emergency hotline at once (they speak several languages, including English). You will not normally get into any trouble if you're forced to break a car window to save a human or animal if time is critical whilst awaiting rescue services.
Watch out for signs of heatstroke
Heatstroke is when your body temperature rises above healthy levels and, if it goes too far, can literally fry your internal organs; it's rare for anyone to survive a body temperature of 41ºC or 42ºC, and almost nobody survives if it gets any higher. If you or anyone else feels unwell – light-headed, dizzy or sick – immediately call 112 and take steps to cool down, rehydrate and get out of the sun.
Stay near water
If you live near a beach or have a swimming pool, plunge in as often you can to cool down. Several towns have dropped entry fees to their public pools during the heatwave, including Gandia (Valencia province), Huesca in Aragón, and Sabadell and Terrassa (Barcelona province).
Madrid's Official College of Veterinarians (COLVEMA) says it's crucial to 'know your pet', so you can see straight away if they show symptoms of indisposition in the heat. Dogs and cats suffer from heatstroke the same way humans do, and they do not sweat, meaning they cannot cool themselves down in the same way as horses can – although you should still hose or sponge your horse down after exercise and stick to early mornings and late evenings for riding, and ideally keep him or her stabled in the daytime, out of the sun and off the hard ground.
Certain breeds of dogs – those with a 'squashed nose', such as bulldogs – need extra care, says COLVEMA, as do fat dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, older animals, or those with breathing or heart problems.
It goes without saying that you should never leave a dog or cat in a parked car; five minutes is enough to cause fatal heatstroke.
The Guardia Civil has reminded pet-owners of the 'five-second rule' for summer walking – dogs' and cats' paws can burn easily, so if you cannot comfortably keep your hand on the pavement for five seconds, you should not walk him or her on it.
Among other symptoms of heatstroke in dogs and cats, trembling or jerky movements, trouble breathing, dribbling, lack of energy, bright-red mucous coming from the nose, vomiting and shuddering, increased heartbeat, and the animal not wanting to move require an emergency call to the vet; meanwhile, move your pet to a cool, shaded place, give him or her water to drink and apply tepid – not cold - water to the body. If your pet refuses to drink, wet his or her mouth, but do not force the issue.
Keep outdoor areas shaded and, if possible, put litter trays indoors or in shaded parts of the terrace to reduce the amount of time your cat has to go outside. Even though cats drink very little, they do tend to drink more in Spain than in, for example, the UK, so make sure water is always available.
Cats keep themselves cool by washing, but if they allow you to sponge them down with tepid water – and many don't – so much the better. Keep them out of hot rooms, and ensure constant air-flow wherever they are in the house.
Moulting can cause health problems in summer, too, especially for cats, who will probably already have started vomiting hairballs; give them food which is specifically designed to prevent hairballs forming, and wipe some malt on their coats – 'cat malt' can be bought from supermarkets or pet shops, and the cat 'eats' it when he or she washes the stain off, allowing it to collect loose fur in the stomach so they can poo it out easily.
Reduce wet food where you can, although do not eliminate it altogether, and immediately clear up any uneaten food so it does not gather flies or go off in the heat, potentially causing your cat an upset stomach.
Keeping your car cool
There's little more unpleasant than getting into your car and feeling as though you've stepped into an oven, grabbing the steering wheel and ending up with third-degree burns on your hands, and looking as though you've been outside in a monsoon before you've been on the road 10 minutes. In Spain, there's a good reason why even the oldest cars have air-conditioning and they never had sun-roofs.
Make sure your air-conditioning is working fully – get it checked at a garage if it doesn't seem to be very efficient – and don't train it directly onto your face or body, however tempting, unless you want to spend the summer battling a cold.
At first, switch it on to the highest setting and in 'circulation mode' so it spreads around the whole of your car, and – although it seems counterproductive – open the windows. Car air-conditioning cools down air from outside, so it won't be chilled for some minutes; once it starts to feel refreshing, turn it down to a comfortable level and shut the windows.
Always use a windscreen cover when parking (ideally in the shade) to keep the sun out, fitted properly to stop any rays whatsoever entering. You can put covers over the back-seat windows when driving, too, although obviously not on any others as this will impede visibility.
Use steering-wheel covers, and ensure they are fitted properly when you park.
If you're in a safe enough area to do so, leave your windows with a tiny gap open when you park so the air can circulate – this is best left to those with older cars, who live in villages where everyone knows everyone, or with private, enclosed driveways, to prevent break-ins,
There may seem little point in washing your car with all the dust circulating if you live in a rural area or near a beach, but constantly dousing it with water actually keeps the inside temperature down, so it is in fact worth it. Although don't bother doing this in the hottest part of the day, however tempting it may be to turn the hose on yourself; the water evaporates too quickly to take any effect.
Cover up seats and dashboard when parking if these are dark-coloured, since otherwise they attract and absorb the heat, turning your vehicle into a four-wheeled metal sauna. Likewise, keep child seats covered, and test them with your hand before sitting your child in them. Make sure the car is cooled down before children, pets or the elderly get in.
Tinted windows filter out UV rays, making them a great investment.
Never leave glasses, sunglasses, cigarette lighters, bottles, or any other glass or clear plastic inside the car unless they are completely covered up, as they could cause a fire and, in the case of lighters, explode. Also, water bottles tend to melt – even if you can't see it, tiny amounts of plastic are dripping into the contents, meaning these will go straight into your stomach. Plus, it's not much fun drinking boiling-hot water during a heatwave anyway, so keep spare water supplies in the boot.
In fact, never drive anywhere without taking water – for yourself and for the car. Keep your mobile phone charged and ensure your breakdown cover hasn't expired: if a vehicle is going to pack up and leave you stranded without air-conditioning, you can guarantee it'll be in the most remote, exposed and unshaded place imaginable. Carry a beach parasol and a freezer-box full of ice and isotonic drinks if you're on a long journey, so if you do break down and have to wait ages, you can stay out of direct sunlight, avoid overheating and becoming dehydrated.
How to avoid massive electricity bills
One of Spain's main consumer organisations, the OCU, has issued a series of recommendations to ensure your electricity bill does not bankrupt you during a heatwave – a time when power use typically soars by around 30% with fans and air-conditioning on full.
As a rough guide, an air-conditioning unit, fixed or portable, cools down an area of about 10 square metres per kilowatt, so a 2.5kW unit will do for a 25-square-metre room and 3.5kW for 35 square metres. Keep filters clean and units properly serviced and maintained so they work as efficiently as possible, fit a thermostat and keep the remote control out of direct heat. Each 1ºC of temperature lower consumes 7% more electricity, so stick to around 26ºC but do not go below 23ºC.
Blinds or thick curtains, closed during the day, and windows and doors closed can cut air-conditioning use by 30%.
Heating water accounts for 26% of household energy consumption, so try to avoid it if you can.
For newer properties, thermal insulation on outer walls and roofs reduce the need for artificial heat and cooling by around 65%, and skylights cut the need for artificial light by 30%, as well as reducing emissions by 20%. The average property in Spain is over 40 years old and unlikely to have these as standard, but an investment in installing these features could save you money and keep you comfortable long term.
Fit air-conditioning units away from areas in direct sunlight and, if possible, in areas where natural air is already flowing, and in places where they reach as much space in the house as possible. Keep interior doors shut, too, so cool air is not wasted by entering rooms you're not using.
If you rely on standing fans, ensure they are at least 50 centimetres (1'8”) away from any fixed object and that the 'fan part' is at least two metres off the ground.
Cat photograph: Ikea
Car photograph: Spanish Alliance for Child Road Safety (Alianza Española para la Seguridad Vial Infantil), AESVi España, on Twitter (@aesvi_oficial)
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