On July 16th, the high in DC reached 98 degrees and what may have been the hottest temperature we’ll see all summer. In Saudi Arabia, that would have been seen as a cooling trend.
Laurie Sieminski is in Riyadh with her husband Adam, who accepted a four-year stint as president of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center. Forest Hills Connection has written about her and her husband’s hobbies (She’s a master quilter, he’s a Peirce Mill enthusiast.) This time, Laurie is writing for us. She’s been sending dispatches to her friends in Forest Hills and has given us permission to share some of her observations. Collected here are her writings on the heat.
June 4: Life Here Comes with a Warning
If it’s not missiles, it’s weather. Actually, on the missile front, it’s been a while since we’ve had an alert – must be the Ramadan Effect, generosity of spirit and all that. But as for weather, well, there are plenty of issues when the temperatures rise. Just this morning, one of the women here got an alert from the Civil Defense Command and the Ministries of Health and Environment in Oman – which, if you aren’t familiar with Middle East geography, lies to the southeast of Saudi Arabia, and so shares much of the same climate. The message was chock full of warnings that we should take to heart, so I am passing them on to you though you in betters climes will likely never need them. I am giving you the translation from Arabic the way the alert arrived.
“Because of the increase in temperatures over the next few days between 47 and 50 degrees Celsius, these are some warnings and alerts…
- Car must be vacated from:
- Gaseous substances
- Soft drinks
- Perfumes and batteries devices in general
- The windows of the car must be opened in a simple manner (My note: hand cranked?)
- Do not fill the fuel tank completely
- Filling the car fuel in the evening
- Not travel by car in the morning
- Do not fill the tires too much, especially in travel
- Attention must be paid to scorpions and snakes. (My note: Indeed!)
- Drink plenty of water and fluids
- Be careful not to turn on water heaters
- Be careful not to place gas cylinders in the sun
- Be sure not to increase load on electricity meters and not operate air conditioners…especially in times of peak temperature (My note: Really?
- Put water out for birds, cats and other animals (My note: this was said in such a convoluted way that I decided to shorten it – but you get the message)
“With greetings of the National Safety Command”
July 2: Survival of the Fittest
As I sit and write this, the Dark Sky app on my phone tells me that outside my window, it’s 109 sunny and dusty degrees. I think of strolling over to the library to donate the paperback I just finished, or maybe to the café for a nice iced coffee. But then some kind of reality takes hold, and I decide instead to stay put in this air-conditioned house and do this week’s letter. But it does get me thinking about how people in this part of the world have managed to survive for centuries in what has to be one of the most challenging climates on the planet.
Recent archeological digs show that animals as large as elephants and as small as seahorses lived in the Arabian peninsula 350,000 years ago, so the land must have had enough water and vegetation to support a wide variety of species. About eight thousand years ago, the landscape began to change. One theory is that the shift in tectonic plates that created the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps caused the Arabian Peninsula to start drying up; another theory posits that the migration of a farming people out of Africa and into the area exposed the soil to overgrazing and consequent erosion. Whether the cause was the one or the other, somewhere along the line, the people adapted to their new desert climate, and became known as the Bedouin, from the Arabic word badawwi, literally “inhabitant of the desert”.
I have done a bit of research into desert survival skills used by the Bedouin, and I will share them with you in the hope that none of us will ever need them.
Water is a must – the Bedouin are nomadic, and need to keep moving to find water and grazing land for their herds. People in these temperatures need at least a gallon of water a day. In the desert, you can turn over large half-buried rocks in the very early morning, when dew will form on the underside, or you can wring dew from clumps of desert grass. The presence of mosquitoes, bees and birds indicates that water is nearby, so scout around. Water seeps from canyons and rock faces, or may be found by digging around the base of rocks. Not to worry too much about your camel – it can go for up to eight days without taking a drink. You, on the other hand, should never venture out (even to the coffee shop) without your water bottle.
… And what to wear on your desert excursion? The Bedouin men wear a long, loose-fitting garment that keeps the dust and wind out and keeps the sweat from drying too quickly, and a head dress called a kuffiya that has long ends that can be wrapped around the face to keep out the wind, sun, and dust. Women wear a long loose garment and a head covering called a burka that serves the same function as the kuffiya. I live in loose linen shirts and pants here at KAPSARC – I may look a wrinkled mess, but I am as cool as it’s possible to be.
July 9: Chillin’
Today it’s only 112 (about 45 Celsius) but a recent newspaper article says that “extreme summer” begins this week. Everywhere north of the equator, it’s just Summer, but here this season has its own name: Tabbakh Al Tamr, Date Season, because this is when the dates ripen. When I look up at those green mesh bags, I can see that the fruits are turning rapidly from green to brown. Temperatures are expected to reach about 122 for the next month. Thankfully, pools here have chillers.
Speaking of chilling scenarios, the United Arab Emirates has come up with an idea that sounds straight out of Hollywood – The Iceberg Project – towing bergs from Antarctica to the UAE to provide additional sources of water to the area. Scientists from different fields have begun collaborating with research centers and universities to study the feasibility and logistics of such a scheme. How much of an iceberg would melt along the way? What organisms might hitch a ride? Would a just-right number of icebergs sitting in the Middle East cause clouds to form over the bergs, and rain to fall? Inquiring minds want to know. The project organizers hope that by early 2020, there will be an iceberg parked off the coast of the UAE. Perhaps a few penguins will come along for the ride. Glacial tourism, anyone? You could save a lot in airfare.