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How to stay cool in Austria as the heatwave hits

The record heatwave sweeping across Europe is hitting Austria. Here's how to keep cool during the hot weather.

How to stay cool in Austria as the heatwave hits
AGES has issued official advice on how to stay cool during the heatwave in Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

On Tuesday, the heatwave that has been affecting the southwest of Europe reaches Austria and temperatures are set to climb to 38C in the coming days.

The Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) has already issued a yellow extreme weather warning for heat across the country on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the alert for extreme heat is then raised to orange in the east and southwest of Austria and the extreme west. The orange warning includes Linz, St. Pölten, Vienna, Eisenstadt, Graz, and Klagenfurt.

With extreme heat comes a risk to health, so here’s a guide to staying cool in Austria during the heatwave.

READ MORE: Heatwave in Austria: How hot is it getting this week and where

Know your rights

There are employment laws in Austria to protect workers against the effects of extreme heat. This is known as “Hitzefrei”, or “heat-free” regulation.

The law allows people working outdoors to down tools when the mercury hits 32.5 degrees – which it is forecast to pass this week. But only until the temperature drops below 32.5 again.

Workers should also be provided with sun protection, including personal protective equipment and allowed to take plenty of water breaks.

If Hitzefrei is applied, workers receive 60 per cent of their pay, which is reimbursed by BUAK (the construction workers’ leave and severance pay fund).

FOR MEMBERS: ‘Hitzefrei’: When is it too hot to work in Austria?

Visit Vienna’s first Cooling Center

Cooling centres have been popular in the USA and other parts of the world that regularly get hot temperatures for several years, but now one has arrived in Vienna – just in time for the heatwave.

According to the Austrian Red Cross (which operates the service) the Cooling Center is an air conditioned quiet space where people can recover from heat stress and drink plenty of water.

It’s free to enter and open to everyone (within capacity limits). Pets are also welcome.

The Cooling Center is located at Shopping Center Nord (SCN), Ignaz-Köck-Straße 1, 1210 Vienna. Opening times in July and August are 12pm to 5pm.

Find out more at the Austrian Red Cross website.

Children and vulnerable people 

Take extra care of the more vulnerable during extreme heat: that includes children, the elderly and pregnant women. Check in with them regularly, especially if they live alone.

Corina Had, spokeswoman for the Viennese Professional Rescue Service, told ORF: “When heat waves last for several days and bring tropical nights, the body is particularly stressed. Babies, small children and the elderly are particularly affected by the heat.”

Never leave anyone in a parked car – temperatures rise quickly even if the vehicle is parked in the shade – and avoid driving during the heat unless your car has air conditioning.

If anyone in your home takes medication, check the instructions for the temperature they should be stored at and, if necessary, put them in the fridge.

FOR MEMBERS: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Prepare your home

For those that don’t have air conditioning, one of the best purchases you can make is an electric fan. It will keep the air moving in your home, which will take the edge off the heat, as well as save you money on energy bills.

Der Standard reports that a fan uses 95 percent less energy than a mobile AC unit with an average cost of just €7 per summer (based on 60 days of use). Whereas a mobile air conditioning unit could cost €170 in additional electricity costs.

Another useful tip is to keep all windows and blinds/curtains closed during the hottest part of the day. Then open windows overnight or early morning to get fresh air throughout your home.

In Vienna, there are even government subsidies available to purchase external blinds and shutters for an apartment. Although permission from a landlord is required for rental properties. The City of Vienna website has more information about this scheme.

Also, try hanging up wet laundry to cool down an apartment. As the clothes dry, evaporation removes heat from the air which cools down the room. 

Call Austria’s heat hotline

Austria has a dedicated “heat” hotline that people can call for personal advice on how to best protect themselves from the heat under the free hotline 050 555 555.

However, if you or someone you know shows any signs of heat stroke or other health problems, call the country’s health number 1450.

People in cities are more likely to be impacted by heat than those in the countryside because temperatures remain higher overnight, so take care if living in an urban area.

READ ALSO: Austrian heatwave: Six tips to get a better night’s sleep

Eat lighter foods and drink plenty of water

During times of high heat, it’s better to eat lighter and more often. For example, fresh and cold meals are preferable to a massive bowl of pasta.

Eating fresh salads also means that you won’t need to heat up your stove, adding unnecessary heat to your home and reducing your energy bills at the same time.

And the number one tip by the Austrian Agency for Food and Health Safety (AGES): drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Look out for pets

As for pets, plan to go outside not only after peak heat hours but after checking how hot the concrete floors are out on the streets. The same applies to a garden terrace or balcony where the ground could be very hot.

Even if the sun has gone down, it could be that the street is still unbearably hot for your pet. At home, keep fresh water always available – you can give them ice cubes too.

FOR MEMBERS: 15 things to do in Austria in summer 2022

Wear the right clothing

Wearing natural fibres is one of the best ways to stay cool in hot weather.

This means wearing clothing made from cotton, linen, silk, bamboo, lyocell or merino wool.

Bamboo and lyocell are also sustainable crops, so buying clothes made from these fibres is better for the environment too (as long as it’s from FSC-certified wood).

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Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.