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How to Survive in a Humid Climate

Emily is an expat, a writer, an editor, a vegan foodie, and a bookworm.

Humidity is a measurement of the water vapor in the air.

Humidity is a measurement of the water vapor in the air.

As an Englishwoman, I've never had to deal with more than one or two humid days a year. After experiencing my first summer in Pittsburgh, where the humidity got as high as 90% or more, I've developed some useful ways to make it through hot, humid days. That may be nothing compared to living in some states, but if you're not accustomed to it, it can have a big impact.

Since my apartment does not have air conditioning, I have had to develop a lot of techniques to avoid succumbing to humidity both indoors and outdoors. The most important things to do are to dress appropriately, drink plenty of water and avoid the heat as much as possible.

What Is Humidity?

Humidity is not necessarily related to heat - it is to do with how much water vapour is in the air. In cities such as Pittsburgh, the humidity can get unbearable. Anyone living in Florida will know what I'm talking about, too - it feels damp, uncomfortably sticky and even difficult to breathe.

During the summers, temperatures often rise to 90 degrees or more, and coupled with humidity, it feels like you're being baked in a bain-marie or smothered with a hot, damp towel. Definitely not a pleasant feeling.

Humidity is also extremely dangerous to your health if you are outdoors in hot, humid weather for long stretches of time.

Health Side Effects of Humidity

Humidity is particularly dangerous when coupled with extreme heat. Side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Elevated Breathing
  • Exacerbating Asthma
  • Excessive Sweating

Being out in the direct sunlight for long periods of time, especially when the humidity makes it feel ten times hotter, is likely to cause lethargy and exhaustion even if you don't suffer from any more serious side effects.

How to Cope Indoors

In some states, it is simply unthinkable not to have air conditioning. In Pittsburgh, however, it is not at all necessary - apart from maybe three months out of the year.

I live in a third-floor apartment, so when it got hot, it got HOT - and when the air was humid, it was even worse, and cracking a window was a BIG MISTAKE. For people experiencing extreme heat and humidity indoors, here are some methods of coping:

  • Don't open the windows - if it is hot outside, it won't cool the place down, and the humid air will only make it worse, not to mention increasing the likelihood of mould and mildew. Some might disagree with this, but I found that letting the humid air in made it worse. Instead, use indoor fans to push the air around - it will be much worse if the air is stagnant.
  • Get a portable air conditioning unit or a dehumidifier. It is worth having because you can cool down at least one room in the house and make it livable. It is also much cheaper than installing air conditioning and having it on all the time. I use a portable air conditioning unit at night in my bedroom when the heat and humidity are getting to me.
  • Keep cool with food. Don't turn on the oven or stove. Drink plenty of water, eat non-cook meals like salads and keep some popsicles handy. It will make the extreme heat more bearable.
  • Take cool showers. It may only be a temporary reprieve, but it will feel so good!
  • Don't be too active - doing chores was agony in a sauna-like house, whereas sitting still became more bearable with several fans directed at me. Movement makes it worse.
  • Get out of the house! Too hot indoors? Go elsewhere and enjoy the sweet, sweet feel of someone else's air conditioning.
Chill with the dinosaurs in a museum.

Chill with the dinosaurs in a museum.

Places to Go to Avoid Humidity

If it's unbearably hot and humid in your living space and going outside is like going swimming in a pool of sweat, the best thing to do is find cool alternatives to get you through the summer. Here are a few suggestions of places to go to avoid the humidity.

  • Shopping centers: spend an afternoon browsing for cool, light summer clothes in a deliciously air-conditioned mall.
  • Cinemas: forget sweating your way through a DVD at home and head to the cinema, where you can enjoy a movie without wanting to bathe in ice cubes.
  • Libraries: Lucky for me, I have a library just across the street. It was my favourite refuge when it got too humid for me.
  • Swimming Pools: An obvious choice - if you can't beat the humidity, getting into a cool pool will certainly make you feel better.
  • Museums: A great refuge in the rain and the sweltering heat. Enjoy a cool afternoon looking at art and history without worrying about whether it is possible for humans to melt.

Coping Outdoors

It's inevitable, right? You have to venture out of doors sooner or later. When you do, you'll need to take a few precautions to make sure you don't make yourself ill. Here's my best advice:

  • Don't do strenuous exercise outside. If you want to do sports, find an indoor location. My only recommended outdoor sport for a humid day is biking - the movement will make you feel cooler. Drink plenty of water, though, and go out in the early morning or late evening for the coolest temperatures.
  • Wear loose, light clothing. Go for light colours and natural fabrics like cotton and linen. Don't wear tight clothing - allow air to circulate and you'll feel cooler.
  • Drink lots of water. You'll get dehydrated extremely fast so take a few bottles of water with you. Freezing half a bottle of water on its side and filling the other half with water will give you a cool drink even after hours in the sun.
  • Stay inside at noon. It's best not to stray outdoors when the day is at its hottest. Try to keep outings to early morning and late evening.

More Tips for Keeping Cool and Having Fun

  • Be a child and have fun outdoors. Invite your friends over and have a sprinkler party in your swimsuits. Fill up some water balloons, act like idiots and beat the hot weather at its own games.
  • Have an excuse to eat ice cream. I invented several exciting new popsicle flavours with my very own popsicle moulds, not to mention my ice cream maker. Cheesecake ice cream, anyone?
  • Defy tradition. Tired of summer activities? Go ice skating in an indoor rink. It's guaranteed to keep you cool.
  • Go on vacation. Go somewhere cooler for a few days or the weekend. Whenever the weather forecast told us that it was going to be over 90 degrees, we took a weekend trip up to Erie - cooler climate, an air-conditioned place to stay, and a beach. Need I say more?

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