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A Storm For The Books

The last week of may consisted primarily of talk and subsequent hype over a strong cold front that would impact the Western Cape on the 1st to the 3rd of June. Leading up to the event the models had been quite aggressive for some time, indicating heavy rains, gale force winds, rough seas and snow. Rarely do we find that the event leads up to what the models were forecasting, but this week it certainly did - at least to some extent.


The first of the cold fronts arrived on Friday, it was one of the weaker fronts to impact us over the weekend, but a decent precluder to the main event. The front on Friday brought light rain but with fairly strong winds, gusting at times to around 45km/h. These conditions continued through the night, winds slowly dropping a bit on Saturday though, with light rain for Saturday morning into early Saturday afternoon. Temperatures were beginning to drop on Saturday and already early on in the day snow was reported in the Matroosberg area.

Hail Cape Town

 


Later in the evening on Saturday the 1st of June 2013, the weather began to impact a bit harder with heavy rains starting - along with occasional thunder and lighting, with these thunderstorms there were bursts of hail, as to be expected with the cold temperatures and the up-drafts of the cumulonimbus clouds. The thunderstorms were isolated, but came in squalls and would impact the Cape Town area through the night. The same conditions would occur far along the West Coast, around the same time.

 


In the early morning hours of Sunday, things got a bit more intense when the main cold front hit with full force. The winds picked up a little bit, again gusting to probably around 40 to 50km/h at times, while the thunderstorms continued their barrage along with small hail pellets. The temperatures continued to drop and would reach their lowest on Sunday, when the Mother City would see day time temperatures hovering around 10'C, making it one of the colder days in recent years. With swell forecasts looking impressive, many severe weather enthusiasts went to places like Kalk Bay early on Sunday, but most were disappointed in the swell size. While the main swell generally arrives after the main event, and the biggest swell was forecast for Monday, the assumption was that the seas would be a bit more rough on Sunday than they actually were.

 


One interesting point to note though, that I picked up on - was the lack of forecast wind. While models were showing the bulk of the wind remaining off-shore, as it did - a few were showing 30-40kt winds in places, peaking on Sunday. Winds on Sunday were probably closer to 8kt.

Definitely one of the most interesting facets of this storm though, were the large but isolated hail storms that occurred around Cape Town on Sunday. A cell that travelled from Sea Point to Pinelands left a wake of white on everything it passed over. It is rare that we see hail collection that resembles snow around the Cape, it's not the first time it has occurred, but it's one of the first times that I have seen so many pictures of it, spread virally over social media. Of course with these images, a spread of misinformation often occurs and we find ourselves subjected to fake snow warnings for the CBD, or reports that the hail was in fact snow. The images below have been circulating on social media, and as such the photographer's name has been lost in the sharing, I am thus unable to provide attribution as I'd like to.

 

By the end of Sunday there were reports of impressive snowfall in the mountainous areas, with Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve saying that they had been receiving ground level snow at reception. The wind was also apparently stronger in the areas of Ceres than it was down in the Cape on Sunday night and into Monday. Freezing level for much of the event was down around the 1300m to 1500m range. And now many wait for the clouds to part, to see how white the front has painted the tops of the mountains.

A user in the forums with the username HBAY also posted these images to the forum of the snow near Touws River:


snow touws river

touws river snow



The rains continued heavily through Sunday and into the early hours of Monday morning, slowly beginning to clear on Monday as the front moved on, bringing much of its weather to the southern cape coastal areas.

The cold front was definitely one for the record books, and I believe we'll be seeing it as one of the benchmarks for local storms. And one can have their own opinion on social media, but it's great to be able to receive real time information and images from people hit by these storms, especially in cases where the conditions vary between just a few kilometers.