This Morning’s Terra Modis satellite overpass (10.55am on Sat 2nd)
The 16 May 1984 storm is the strongest storm in the Cape Town area in recent history, and unlike the Great Storm of 1865 there was the presence of modern meteorological devices such as anemometers and satellite imagery.
The storm of May 1984 was by definition an extremely deep extra-tropical depression which occurred when a low pressure area of a cold front became occluded and underwent what is called explosive cyclogenesis (the process of an occluded low pressure system rapidly deepening). Unfortunately, while satellite imagery was common in areas of the military and government, there was no weather service archiving satellite imagery at this time, and as such the availability of such images is little to none.
It was a Tuesday night when the storm began to start baring down on Cape Town, in the beginning it felt like any other cold front, with temperatures fairly low and with some brisk winds, though this would change as the night went on. Many residents recall waking up in the early hours of Wednesday morning to the sounds of violent winds whistling through nearby trees and the sound of small debris hitting their windows, though it wasn’t until daylight came that they would see the extent of the damage.
The center of the 16 May 1984 storm was located to the South of Cape Town, yet due to the extremely low pressure associated with the storm the winds were still devastating well inland. It was a fast moving system which passed quickly to the South East.
It is estimated that the central pressure of the 1984 storm was as low as 960hpa, with pressures around 980hpa over Cape Town itself. The wind measurements of the 1984 storm were quite amazing, the strongest winds recorded in South Africa occurred during this storm – Beauford West recording a gust of 186km/h before the anemometer failed. With sustained winds to be estimated at around 120km/h (80mph) and possibly stronger in places, the storm brought the same strength winds as a category 1 hurricane.
Damage reports were widespread, with Somerset West subject to extreme structural damage. The storm brought wave heights of around 11 meters, though there were little maritime casualties, when one looks at the strength of the storm. The 16 May 1984 storm caused millions of Rands of damage, it remains the strongest storm seen in the Cape Town area in recent history and definitely could have been stronger than the Cape Town Great Storm of 1865, though due to lack of meteorological instrumentation in the mid 19th century, there is no way to confirm this.