Tourist Tip #309 / How to Beat the Heat and Enjoy Your Israeli Summer

You can have terrific fun in the sun or you could wind up in hospital. Here’s how to do it right

Israeli summers are hot, but they have a lot of cool stuff to offer: fine Mediterranean beaches and pools by day, and warm evenings for dining under the stars, enjoying outdoor concerts and events, and reveling in the night-life.

Don’t be afraid of the Israeli summer: just be smart in dealing with it.

* Where possible, do your outdoors sightseeing in the cooler early morning and late afternoon hours. Plan cool intervals on a hot day: a dip in the pool, a nap in your hotel room, or down-time in an air-conditioned coffee-shop, museum or mall.

* Stay out of the sun as much as you can. But when in the sun, wear a hat, preferably a wide-brimmed one - a visor doesn’t offer the same protection - and use sun-screen.

* Drink copious amounts of water throughout the day to prevent dehydration. Remember: A cold beer may feel great on a hot day, but alcohol doesn’t keep you hydrated. Water does.

Israel gets a lot of “strong” sunshine. That may not be a very scientific description, but it does alert you. The country’s summer heat is not all about temperatures. Israel’s position on the planet, and hence the angle at which the sun’s rays reach it, plays a significant part in determining the intensity of the sunshine. This is called “insolation” (with an “o”, as in “sol’, the sun), aka solar irradiation.

It’s not hot in Israel all the time, of course. You can get gorgeous days in December, January and February, but it’s still winter, and you’ll need to pack sweaters, a jacket and an umbrella. Spring and autumn can be almost sensuously balmy, with many perfect days when it’s equally comfortable in the sun and the shade.

It’s May through September that requires caution against sun and heat. July and August are statistically the hottest months, with temperatures in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Galilee averaging 30°-31°C (86°-88°F), and higher in Eilat and the Dead Sea region. Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast, tends to be humid, while Jerusalem, inland and high, is drier and more tolerable, especially in the afternoon when the breeze blows in from the sea.

There is a different heat phenomenon called the “hamsin” that characterizes the in-between seasons of May and early June, and September into early October. It’s an occasional front of dry, dusty, hot air that moves in from the desert. It’s not the same as the predictable summer heat.

For a day or two or three, temperatures soar, and people listen to the radio news more attentively to find out when the “hamsin” is expected to break. The name “hamsin” comes from the Arabic word for “fifty,” the approximate number of days in the potential season (though, thankfully, the number of actual heat-wave days isn’t anywhere close to that).

Jerusalem, on the border with the Judean Desert, suffers more from the “hamsin” than Tel Aviv, where the sea mitigates the effect.

The combination of “hamsin” heat and dryness demands especial caution with regard to dehydration. It can creep up on you if you let it, but it’s very simple to prevent: drink enough and wear a hat. And avoid desert hikes until the weather breaks.

Water, water, water – that should be your mantra in hot dry weather. The alternative ranges from unpleasant through nasty to dangerous. Lethargy is a common early symptom of dehydration, followed by a hangover-type headache. By the time your body temperature and heartbeat go up, you’ll be needing urgent medical attention.

Enjoy Israel’s warm weather – but stay healthy.

Olivier Fitoussi
Eliahu Hershkovitz