Last Thursday and Friday, the combination of heat and humidity in Bandar Mahshahr, Iran, spiked to levels about as extreme as they get on planet Earth. But residents of the city of 100,000 people didn’t really notice, according to an Iranian citizen who was there.
After reporting these extraordinary conditions, we sought out witnesses from the city in southwest Iran near the Persian Gulf in an effort to explain how severe they were and how the local population was coping.
“It was a hot Sharji day in Mahshahr on Thursday, but nothing special for the people,” said Peyman Fatemi, who was on the scene in Bandar Mahshahr on Thursday.
Fatemi, who recently earned an advanced degree in computational mechanics from Germany before returning to Iran, said Bandar Mahshahr is used to oppressive combinations of heat and humidity.
Fatemi called last week’s heat and humidity a surprise only because such conditions, called “Sharji” in Persian, are most common in September. That’s when onshore sweltering winds off the toasty Persian Gulf waters — which frequently reach 90 degrees or hotter — are most common.
“What I want to emphasize is that everyday life [was] completely normal for the people,” Fatemi said. “On Thursday in Mahshahr, we went out for shopping and eating with friends at 7 p.m., when the weather was humid but less hot than noon. Streets were crowded as usual.”
The air temperature soared to 109 degrees, and the reported dew point, a measure of humidity, was an astonishing 90 degrees late that afternoon. The corresponding heat index of 159 degrees is not even considered valid since the equation for computing it wasn’t designed for such extreme conditions.
The suffocating heat was “annoying,” Fatemi said, but part and parcel of summer in Iran near the Persian Gulf.
“Our whole skin and shirts got completely wet very quickly — say in less than five minutes — but it is normal and is a matter of taking a shower afterwards,” Fatemi said. “People also drink a lot of cold water, soda-based drinks, malt beverages and so on.” Most people “carry a bottle of cold water, juice, everywhere.”
“By the way,” he added, “it is very difficult to walk under sunshine between 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer for more than 15 minutes without resting in a shade and drinking a heavy load of water and pouring it over your head.”
Fatemi said the local infrastructure has adapted to keep the population cool and safe. “You get chilled and dry as soon as you enter a house, shop or car,” he said. “There are powerful air conditioners everywhere. A 36,000 BTU air conditioner is enough for a 70-square-meters apartment or a shop. Electricity is heavily subsidized by the government and is relatively cheap in the region, and hence powerful air conditioners are widely used.”