Backward in time

A sky filled with cotton puff clouds greeted us this morning, the harbinger of what is forecast to be the first cold front of the winter season in the Cape, and not a moment too soon. Last week’s rain, which was a deluge along the Southern Cape coast, was brought by a cut-off low pressure system and not the first cold front of winter, and despite panic fomented on social media with headlines of major storm, etc., this did not apply to the dry little seaside town where I live. A paltry 14mm was measured and was soon evaporated by the sunshine that followed.

The well dried up months ago and the water tanks have not been replenished, so it’s been back to using municipal water to keep the garden alive. The plants don’t like municipal water, and will make a token show of greenery, but a little shower from the heavens will make them burst into fresh life, fat buds of leaves uncurling within days. If tonight’s rain materialises, I am expecting a transformation (even if just to prove my theory).

This weekend marks the 37th anniversary of the Great Cold Front of 1984, when hurricane force winds battered the Cape, windows of the cottages on the rocks of the Atlantic Seaboard were smashed by heavy seas and the carpark at the Kom was filled knee deep with kelp torn from its anchorage. Sections of the tarred path along the bay were lifted off the rocks and swept away and at least one bench was found tossed into a tree. Garden walls were no match for the force of the waves as the weight of the kelp surged on the high tide, and homeowners found their lawns replaced by a tangled mass of debris. Small dinghies wrenched from their moorings were wrecked on the lawns of the Kom where a day before boys had kicked a football.

People love a scene of drama where Nature has shown her hand, and the dawn saw Kommetjie residents out in force, oohing and aahing at the destruction, the broken boats (I should have taken it off the mooring). It all happened in the dark of night – a huge disappointment to all, as it would have been a momentous event to witness. A marker buoy far out to sea measured a swell of 17 metres. We have not yet had a repeat of such a gale, although a slightly less violent storm some years back did leave seaweed in the road outside our house, reminding us that we are not much more than 10 feet above the high tide mark, if that.

There is a warning system in place for such events . The sandhopper (talorchestia capensis), which feeds on washed up kelp, knows how high the tide will reach and makes sure it is out of the way in good time. If you see hordes of them swarming across the path along the bay, you know there will be seaweed on that path the next day. In 1984, they swarmed up the walls of the houses closest to the beach. A warning indeed!

We slept through the storm, high winds and all, despite being 30 metres from the bay, thanks to the sheltering protection of the ancient milkwoods that provide a barrier along the shoreline.

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