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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Here it comes: Another hot summer in Europe

Tourists cool off in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, Aug. 18, 2021. As Europe heads for another scorching summer, travelers once again are heading to the hot spots. (Eirini Vourloumis/The New York Times)

By Ceylan Yeginsu

Europe, the world’s fastest-warming continent, is headed for another scorching summer, meteorologists warn. And travelers, once again, are heading to the hot spots.

Last year, large parts of southern Europe experienced prolonged periods of extreme heat with temperatures reaching 118 degrees and lasting up to two weeks or more. The sweltering conditions upended vacations throughout the summer season as visitors collapsed from heat exhaustion at crowded tourist sites, and wildfires led to evacuations in Greece, Italy and Spain.

“Our computer models are in good agreement that it’s going to be another unusually hot summer, especially during late July through August,” said Todd Crawford, vice president of meteorology at Atmospheric G2, a weather and climate intelligence firm based in Manchester, New Hampshire. The company expects the magnitude of the heat to be similar to 2022, the hottest summer ever recorded in Europe, with the most anomalous heat projected in the south, in popular countries for travelers like Greece, Croatia and Italy.

Since 1991, Europe has been warming at twice the global average, and 23 of the 30 most severe heat waves in Europe since 1950 have occurred since 2000, with five in the last three years, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said several factors contribute to the continent’s vulnerability, including the proportion of European land in the Arctic — the fastest-warming region on earth — and changes in atmospheric circulation.

Yet despite the forecast and increasing trend of excessive summer heat, demand is still high for destinations where temperatures reached 100 degrees or higher in recent summers. Overall, U.S. demand for travel to Europe has increased since last year, according to the travel site Hopper. Rome, Paris and Athens are among the most searched cities out of billions of annual searches for summer vacations on Kayak and Expedia.

“The destinations are being booked again, and what really characterizes people is how quickly they forget and push back negative experiences,” said Stefan Gössling, a professor who researches tourism and climate change at Linnaeus University in Sweden. “People who were caught in life-threatening situations like the wildfires may reconsider where they travel, but for the broader population, we are not yet seeing a big change in decision-making because of the heat.”

Green spaces and heat officers: Cities adapt

As the summer approaches, popular destinations that were hit hard last year are working on protocols to make residents and tourists safe and more comfortable. In 2021, Athens became the first European city to appoint a chief heat officer to oversee those efforts. One of the first steps was to categorize heat waves by severity, like hurricanes, as an early warning system for the potential impact on human health. It is also naming heat waves to emphasize their potential risks.

“Heat is a silent killer and projections for the coming years show that it will only get worse, so we are redesigning our city and making changes to adapt,” said Elissavet Bargianni, the chief heat officer for Athens. Beyond raising awareness, the city plans to implement additional measures, which include increasing the number of green spaces and creating cool public areas.

For visitors planning to visit Athens this summer, Bargianni advises using the Extrema Global app that calculates the coolest route for getting from point A to point B according to the current temperature and density of the trees. The city already has several air-conditioned cooling centers that are free.

During last July’s heat wave, the Acropolis was forced to close between midday and the early evening to protect visitors after some of them collapsed from the heat. The ministry of culture could make the same decision this year, Bargianni said, if the heat is severe.

Heat and tours: Travel advisers get creative

Travel advisers are also factoring heat into flexible itineraries. In cities like Rome, Barcelona, Paris and Athens, they are scheduling sightseeing in the cooler morning and evening hours, and arranging air-conditioned transportation.

“We tend to do activities and tours in the morning, then stop for lunch, and in the mid- to late afternoon you either go back to the hotel to sit by the pool or go to the beach,” said Gary Portuesi, a co-managing partner at Authentic Explorations, a New York-based travel company that specializes in Europe.

If clients insist on taking midday tours, the company will work with local partners to make the experience as comfortable as possible. “If there is a six-hour tour, for example, they will cut it down to four and take them to an air-conditioned gelateria for a break,” Portuesi said.

It is not only the heat that travel advisers have had to grapple with, but also other unpredictable weather events. Last summer, while some parts of the continent were hot and dry, others were cold and wet. “There was a period during the summer peak when it was hotter in the Dolomites than it was in Sicily,” said Jennifer Schwartz, the Italy-based partner of Authentic Explorations. “The most important aspect of our job is to set expectations about the variables and guide people instead of saying it’s too hot, don’t come.”

Heat insurance?

To help travelers book with more confidence, Sensible Weather, a Los Angeles-based startup that provides a weather guarantee for vacations and outdoor experiences, has recently added high heat protection to its coverage. When booking through a Sensible partner, travelers will be able to add daily protection and if the temperature exceeds a threshold — usually set between 90 and 100 degrees — they can claim reimbursement. Currently, the insurance is only available in the United States, but, the company said, will gradually be rolled out in Europe and elsewhere.

“The goal of the company is to cover everything that can ruin a trip, and usually it’s rain, but temperature is No. 2,” said Nick Cavanaugh, the company’s founder who was developing the product while caught in a heat wave in Barcelona last year.

Customers do not need to cancel their trip in order to be reimbursed. Those on package tours are reimbursed for the average daily rate of their entire trip for each day that surpassed the heat threshold. “Our customers can still go on their vacations, but if it’s too hot for some hours of the day and unpleasant to go outside, you can hang out in the air-conditioning and we will reimburse you,” Cavanaugh said.

Heading to cooler climes

Some travelers who were caught in Europe’s heat waves last summer are seeking cooler destinations this summer in places such as Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland. Flight searches for Tromsø, Norway, for example, have increased by 85% over 2023, according to Kayak.

Joanna Walker, a 43-year-old recruiter from Boston, was caught in a blistering heat wave with her family in Italy last July and vowed never to return during the summer. She said she had been advised to travel during the shoulder season, but couldn’t because her children were in school.

“We couldn’t even cool off in the pool because there was no shade and the water was hot,” Walker recalled. “We wanted to see the sights in Florence and have long lunches in the piazzas, but instead we were stuck in our overpriced villas under the air-conditioning.”

This year her family has booked a tour of Norway’s fjords in July, where temperatures linger in the high 60s. “It’s going to be a different vibe to Italy for sure, lots of nature and not as much history, but at least it will be cool enough to experience something.”

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