30 Is The Magic Number

Something strange happened this last week in Vienna. We woke up on the Monday morning and it was Autumn. In truth we knew this would happen. The night before on the Austrian news, the weather presenter told us this would be the last day of summer (they meant summer weather) where temperatures would no longer pass the magical thirty-degree mark. Of course, as every good citizen of the number twelve city knows (The Economist have seemingly thrown Vienna under a very clean bus) thirty degrees is the sign for the good citizens to declare time for “swimming weather”. In fact, when it drops below thirty degrees, it is illegal to swim and anyone caught wearing flip-flops in Vienna after 6pm between May 31st and September 30th will be giving the choice of either working as a lifeguard the next season at the exclusive Laarbergbad in the 10th district (The “Bad” stands for bad, really bad) or leaving Austria (most choose the latter). 

Inevitably, it was a poignant moment. Growing up as I did five minutes from one of Europe’s great beaches – Dumpton Gap in Broadstairs, Kent, England, home of Brexit – swimming weather meant two things. First, warm enough to wear short trousers (so all year); second, mostly during the summer holidays, the unmistakable hollering of my mother urging us to get down the “Fucking beach!” Yet, it seems it is now time to pack away the foldaway sun-loungers, (preferably transported about in a little wagon), recycle your Crocs at the MA48 (fun fact: this is not allowed) and make a sizable donation to whichever spiritual being made sure you were spared for one more year the horrors of the Vienna Freibad in high season. 

As summers go, certainly compared to other years since the turn of the millennium, 2021 has felt anything but spectacular. Admittedly, until this week, it had since the start of June been pretty warm. Yet it has been nothing compared to the recent heat of 2013 and 2015 when the penguins at Schönbrünn went on strike demanding special heat payments similar to the ones paid to the Vienna city binmen. That said, when you take the number of days where the mercury nudged past thirty and the number of nights where the temperature didn’t drop below twenty, it still meant that 2021 was seemingly the sixth hottest on record.

We know this because of the splendid work carried out by ZAMG (Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik) which is headquartered on the Hohe Warte, 200 metres above sea-level in the north of the city (readings are also taken from the 1st district on the Opengasse and one in the 14th district to the west at Mariabrunn). It was from these weather wonks that I discovered that the climate of Vienna is typical for eastern Austria which must come as a great relief seeing as a quarter of the population live here. This means low precipitation, little snow, many cloudy and moderate days in winter with sunny and hot summers. In other words, the climate of Vienna is your typical “oceanic west meets continental east” which more or less describes my marriage.

In any case, when you take a look at the city of Vienna weather statistics starting from 1955 (the year records began after the Russians left and the inspiration for the fall of Narnia) the overall impression is that it has been remarkably consistent. Even back in 1957 the hottest day was 38 degrees and there is only one summer in the last 65 years when it never went over 30 degrees (in 1975). Indeed, in 1977 and 1978, the highest temperature was also only 30 degrees. To put this in perspective, if you said to me this year that the temperature would only just hit 30 degrees in summer then my answer would be yes, and next year Schweizerhaus would be going vegan and Dominc Nepp, head of the far-right Freedom Party was about to adopt an Afghani. The point being that 30 degree highs, or thereabouts, have been the norm for over 60 years based on the available digest of data.

However, when you take each decade, something interesting reveals itself. In the 1960s the temperature never once went above 35 degrees in any year. In the 1970s, it happened in only one year. In the 1980s, twice and in the 1990s, three times. But since the turn of the millennium, strange things have been afoot. In the 2000s there were seven years where the temperature exceeded 35 degrees, and – get this – in the last decade there were eight summers when the demand of home air-conditioning units rocketed and the owners of ice-cream shops all over the city momentarily became richer than Red Bull co-founder, Didi Mateschitz.  

Weather data is not subjective. It might be possible to accept that some interpretation of such data might be subjective if, and only if, one placed it in a long enough timeframe (like an inter-glacial or waiting for someone to pick up the phone at the immigration office in Vienna). But at the end of a very hot day, the figures don’t lie and it would take a suitcase of cash and a fully-concierged apartment in the Hofburg to convince me otherwise. Of course, what we really want is the apocryphal, the dubious and the highly subjective. So, yes, I know the summers are hotter in Vienna than when I moved here because this year we had to install some extra roller blinds to keep out the intense heat. 

But where there is sun, there is rain. This week the Weather Attribution Group claimed that the heavy rainfall behind deadly flooding in Europe in July was made more likely by climate change and “human induced global warming”. They go on to say that: “In the current climate, for any given location in Western Europe, they would expect a rainfall event like the one in July to happen once in 400 years (or the immigration office in Vienna to pick up the phone) but with rising temperatures, the heavy rainfall that brought misery to parts of Europe will become more common.”

But before we get to the misery, an Austrian joke: “Where do Germans go to laugh?” “In the cellar!” Which, of course, the Germans would quickly retort, if they had the capacity for thinking on their feet, with a … well, “Austrians would know a thing about cellars; it’s where they hide their second families.” As a good European, diplomatic, circumspect and unforgiving, I try to keep out of such inter-cultural spats, but I mention cellars, because we have one, and when we returned to Vienna after spending a week up a mountain escaping the summer heat, the night after that torrential rain alluded to above by the scientists, we had a bit of a shock.

Needless to say, news had already reached us about the climatic events in parts of Europe and although Vienna had seemingly escaped any major damage, the precipitation was evidently incredible. So incredible that the rain had overwhelmed the drain behind our garage and with nowhere to go, decided to flow in through the backdoor, down some steps and flood parts of our basement. I have had a few low moments in my life, but spending several hours on that humid, hot Sunday evening ripping up a wooden laminate floor crying softly to myself when I should have been having a Stiegl, is one I shall treasure.

Although the natural environment is part of the classification for the Mercer Quality of Life survey which Vienna has gracefully topped since 2009, my understanding is that this applies more to the propensity for earthquakes, tsunamis or intense weather which makes habitation a challenge. As such, I am not sure that the flooding of our cellar will have much bearing on the ranking when it returns next year.

But rest assured, in the number one city, the insurance industry is supremely equipped to deal with such unfortunate events and there are a multitude of insurance affiliated companies ready to ignore your emails and phone calls as you scramble around trying to get a quote and someone to fix it, fix anything. In my mind, I envisaged reporting the damage to the insurance hotline only to hear a reassuring: “Keine Sorge, Mr Barratt, we will take care of everything, have a glass of milk.” After all, Vienna Insurance Group, the number one city’s premier insurance company, claim in their marketing to “want my worries”. But do they? Do they, really? (You already know the answer.)

© 2021 RJ Barratt