It was a very wet weekend in Cape Town, with torrential downpours blocking stormwater drains, flooding streets and causing dams to form at the side of the road. Gale force winds tore the limbs off trees and carelessly scattered them everywhere. People were cautiously driving with their headlights on, dodging large puddles; their windscreen wipers, set on high-speed, were sending sprays of water to the left and right. Intermittent flashes of lightning lit up the dark skies, and rolling claps of thunder echoed off buildings.
Cape Town rarely gets thunderstorms in winter; we do sometimes get them in summer, when there has been a build-up of heat and humidity over a couple of days, but in all the years I’ve lived here, I have almost never experienced a proper thunderstorm when the temperatures have been so low.
Ever so often, though, the curtain of clouds parted briefly, allowing some rays of sunlight to peek through, offering false hope that the weather would clear up soon-soon. We huddled around the heater, clutched hot water bottles, sipped hot chocolates, and wrapped ourselves in additional layers to keep out the wintry chill, grateful that we were lucky enough to be sheltering indoors.
This afternoon, it suddenly felt as though the temperature had plummeted another couple of degrees.
And then the hail began to fall.
Initially, it was small little hailstones, pitter-pattering against the window panes as though someone was standing outside and playfully throwing grains of rice at the house. Soon, though, the pitter-patter turned to a roar, as proper hailstones – the size of large pinheads, some about as big as the fingernail on my little pinkie – began to hammer onto the ground, bouncing off the tarmac, and thundering on the corrugated iron roof of the carport. Within minutes, everything – the backyard, the lawn, the driveway, the street outside – was covered in millions of small spherical pellets, creating a slushy, slippery carpet of hail.
I grabbed my camera and captured some shots for you, as hail is not a common occurrence in this part of the world.
Unfortunately, it had caused quite a bit of damage to our garden. The hard ice pellets had torn holes through the remaining brown-orange-russet leaves of our plane tree, and completely shredded the large green leaves of our young pawpaw tree – the poor thing will take weeks to recover from this assault. The strawberry plants in the backyard looked like they had been chewed on by an invasion of snails, and the basil plants had scattered some of their leaves and seemed to be frozen in fear of losing the rest. The little green shoots of the radish and carrot plants that we had seeded about a month ago, had all been flattened. I doubt that it will be a good harvest this year.
But, despite that, I had to admit that it looked rather pretty. There were actual piles of hail along the edges and in the corners. It could almost have been snow.
As I have always wanted to build a snow(wo)man (the closest I came was during our visit to New York’s Central Park at the end of our little American roadtrip last year), I thought to myself, “You know what? Let’s try to build a hailman instead.”
I didn’t even last a minute in the cold.
The hailstones had almost frozen solid against the facebrick wall of the yard, and I had to dig my fingertips into them to scrape them free. I managed to make only a little pile of them, before the pain in my freezing fingertips became too unbearable. Richard graciously took over, handing me the camera to record the moment for posterity. So, we built our first
snowhailman! (OK, ok, I know it’s tiny, but you try forming a pile of slushy, semi-frozen hailstones into anything resembling a snowman! :-))