As Cape Town is battered by a severe hailstorm, we build our first-ever little hailman!

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.

Our streets are covered in such a thick carpet of hailstones that it looks like snow

Our streets are covered in such a thick carpet of hailstones that it looks like snow

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.

Our backyard is almost white with hailstones

Our backyard is almost white with hailstones

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.

That is the result - Hailman, South African style!

That is the result – Hailman, South African style!

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! :-))

16 thoughts on “As Cape Town is battered by a severe hailstorm, we build our first-ever little hailman!

  1. Thanks for the Hailman post, love your work!
    We live in Diep River and did not get anywhere near as much hail as you guys.
    Keep warm and keep up the good work.

    • Hello Rob – amazing to hear from a fellow Capetonian! So you also had hail? I believe the City Centre and Sea Point area also had quite a lot. We drove through to the Rondebosch Commons area, but no sign of any hail around there. Strange how it can be so localised. I am definitely going to keep the hot water bottle relay going tonight! Bye for now!

    • Yes, ‘global warming’ it sure isn’t – definitely more like ‘global cooling’. Are you also noticing a change in the pattern of your seasons, rainfall, temperatures, Birgitte?

      Our hailman had melted all away by this morning, the poor thing. I like to think he had a happy if short life.

      • Absolutely, the weather has changed and become more dramatically, the past days with rain in Germany and other countries around has led to flood in many cities. It has become necessary to think in new ways to lead the water away and avoid damages from the extra water that comes so quickly. The weather is unusual both when it is cold and when it is warm, it also has influence on the animals and insects, which change the natural balance we are used to have. At least you got the possibility to make a hail man, there has to be some fun too. . πŸ™‚

      • Yes, making the hailman was fun! But I did feel very sorry for all the plants and the little birds, because that hailstorm was pretty intense. And you are so right – what happens with all the extra run-off, given that we have covered so much of the earth’s surface – and our precious wetlands – with streets and canals and buildings, trying to channel the water away from where it would naturally go. It’s bound to cause flooding.

    • I always thought that cities by the sea would not get much hail, because the sea stops the temperatures from becoming too extreme?

      Our hailman did not last very long, alas. We had to push him out of the way so that we could back the car out of the driveway… πŸ™‚

  2. Great post, Reggie! I was reminded of my first ever encounter with hail when I just came here. Being from the tropics, I was so excited about it but my husband found it so funny that I could see so much beauty in it. πŸ˜‰

    • I also think there *is* beauty in hail, Malou. And seeing our garden covered in hail, so that it looked like we had had a snow storm, was an extraordinary feeling. I don’t remember *ever* seeing hail like that in Cape Town in all the years I’ve lived here.

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