Summer heat...

How to Cope with Extreme Heat: Tips from a Desert Dweller

Most of the world is trying to cope with extreme heat this summer. No matter where I look, I read and hear stories of extreme heat, especially in places that are not used to triple digit (in F) temperatures.

For us, residents of Phoenix, Arizona, it’s “just another day in the desert”. We deal with the same heat every summer; For us, it’s not really much different. Yes, we are tired of it, we try to leave town as often as possible. It is also true that we have more days of extreme high temperatures every year. But generally, it isn’t as different here as it is in places we knew as cooler.

I know that most places are not equipped to deal with this kind of heat. All homes have air conditioning in Phoenix. This is not the case in most other places, where historically temperatures didn’t rise high enough to be needed. I know it is harder without it.

We all had air conditioning break during the summer, so yes, we can relate, although we usually can get it fixed within a few days.

Regardless though, coping with temperatures of above 105F (about 40Celsius) every day for months, makes us pros in knowing how to deal with this kind of heat.

So, here are a few things you can learn from us, inhabitants of the desert.

Stay Indoors Between Noon and 4pm

The heat is the strongest between noon and 4 or 5 pm; so try to stay indoors during these times. In fact, temperatures are rising earlier, around 10am, so it’s even better to get everything outdoors done before this time, then spend the rest of the day indoors. Until about sundown, if possible.

In the summer, I go outside around 5am or 6am. It’s the only time I feel comfortable outdoors in the middle of the summer. Of course, it would help if stores opened that early, but they are air-conditioned here, so you can go shopping any time of the day. Just keep your outdoor activities to early morning, or later in the day.

In fact, if you live in a place where neither your house nor the public buildings have air conditioning, learn about the siesta, a Mexican custom of sleeping – or at least resting – after lunch, between noon and 3pm or 4pm.

How to Keep Your House Cool

It’s all nice to tell you to stay indoors, if it is air conditioned. But if you don’t have air conditioning, or it doesn’t work properly, it is going to be hot in the house. Over the years, we learned how to deal with that, too. We’ve had our air conditioner break in the middle of the summer. We also try to save on electricity by keeping it at higher temperatures and having it work a little less, when possible.

So we learned that we can do several things to keep our home from getting unbearably hot.

Keep your shades closed

It might be darker in your house, but closed shades keep the house several degrees cooler. We have them open in the early mornings, but as soon as the sun is up, we close them. It helps keep the house at least a few degrees cooler.

Of course, we also have sunshades on the outside of the windows, we put up every year in June; and over the years we learned that investing in heavier shades is worth is. Double-pane windows and good insulation of the house also helps.

But if you don’t live in a place where this has been constant, you might not have those. However, any shade or curtain helps.

Try Not To Use The Oven, Or Stove-Top

It’s summer, it’s hot, the last thing you want to do is turn the stove top or the oven on. It seems common sense, but most of us like to cook at least one meal a day.

If you need to cook, do it early in the morning, and try to make things that are good cold, so you don’t need to heat them up at night. Or make things that get done fast, on the oven-top, and don’t keep it on too long.

Use fans throughout the house

Fans might not cool the house down as much as air conditioning, but they work well to keep you cooler by circulating the air. For an even better cooling trick, place a bucket of ice in front of the fan, that way it circulates the cold air emanating from the ice.

Stay Hydrated

I know, we live in the desert, where it’s a dry heat, so it is more important for us to keep hydrated. But heat dehydrates you, no matter where you are, or how humid your environment is. Hydrating helps the body keep a normal temperature. Also, drinking water replaces the fluids you lose when sweating.

The best way to stay hydrated is by drinking water. Just plain water; no sugary drinks or sodas. You can add lime or lemon to it, to improve the taste and freshen it. If you have it, coconut water is another great choice, even better if you exercise.

Stay away from caffeinated drinks, sugary drinks, and alcohol, since they tend to dehydrate.


If you need to be outside during excessive heat, you can still make sure you stay healthy. Try to stay in the shade as much as possible. Walk on the shaded side of the street, seek out trees to stop under.

Always carry a water bottle

As I mentioned above, it is easy to get dehydrated in the heat, so make sure you have a water bottle with you, preferably one half-frozen. Not only it is for drinking, but if it is cold enough, you can hold it by your forehead (or neck) to cool you down.

I actually learned the importance of carrying a half-frozen water bottle the hard way. During my first summer in the Phoenix, my husband and I went out midday in the desert, in search of a saguaro. We had just bought a house, and we learned that as they were building more in the desert, they were selling saguaros for $5, if you found one in the designated area. We would’ve loved to have on in front of the house, so we set out to search for one.

Shortly after being out there, I started to feel light-headed, dizzy, and ready to pass out. Fortunately, I knew it was from the heat, and I wasn’t too far from the car, where I left my water bottle. Since our car had no air conditioning at the time, we carried a few frozen water bottles with us everywhere we went. I barely made it back to the car, but once there, I held the frozen bottle to my head, and neck, and drank some, so I felt better without a need to go to the emergency room.

Could’ve been worse. Which brings me to the next tip:

Learn the signs of heat exhaustion, and other heat-related problems

These days you can learn everything online, so before heading out in the heat, read about the signs of heat exhaustion, and other heat-induced problems, so you recognize them in yourself and others you come in contact with outside. For example, feeling weak, tired, clammy might indicate heat exhaustion, along with headache and dizziness.

Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing

Light colors reflect the sun and keep you cooler, so if you are outside in the heat, they help keep you cooler.

Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen

No matter when you go outside in the summer heat, wear a hat, and sunscreen for protection. You don’t want to get burned.

Exercise indoors, or early in the morning/late in the day

If you have a routine of exercise every day, you probably don’t want to let the heat disrupt it. However, change it a little, maybe switch it to lower impact exercise, and do it either indoors or go out very early or late in the day. And make sure you drink enough water.

If You Are Traveling…

It is summer, and most of us are on the road. We might think we are traveling to places with cooler temperatures. But these days, you never know where you’ll encounter hotter than usual weather.

Everything above still applies. In addition:

Try to do all your outdoor activities in the early morning and late in the day. Especially if you plan on hiking. Midday it might get hot even in the darkest, coolest forest.

Spend time in and around water, if you can. However, spend too much time in the direct sun, even in the water. Wear sunscreen, but make sure that you use reef-safe sunscreen if you are swimming in the ocean. Sit in the shade when you are outside of the water, and make sure you drink enough water. You might not feel getting dehydrated near water, but you still may.

During midday, go visit a museum close by. If you are visiting our city in the middle of the desert (though I have no idea why you would in the middle of the summer), we have a few Phoenix museums worth visiting.

No matter where you are, though, you can find one worth your time. Even in places where they have no air conditioning, art museums tend to be in old castles, with very thick walls, so they stay cool no matter how hot it gets. Exhibits in the basements tend to be cooler than the rest, maybe it’s a good time to explore them.

Visit old castles, and cathedrals, they also tend to be cooler, with their thick walls and small windows, even if they have no air conditioning.

Or, sit in a restaurant for longer lunch. And choose meals fit for hot weather.

No matter where you are, hope these tips help, and the extreme summer heat is only a mild annoyance during your vacation. If you can change plans to visit cooler areas, stay flexible, and take opportunities that present themselves.

Stay safe and happy rest of the summer!

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