Cape Town – Here we go: after the driest summer and autumn in living memory, meteorologists say the western side of South Africa is about to be hit by the storm of the decade.
Weather forecasters are predicting heavy rains, snow on high-lying areas, gale force winds of more than 100km/h and, on the Atlantic Coast, swells of more than 20 metres on top of a spring tide, with the wind behind them, which could conceivably force salt-water flooding across the Beach Road on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula.
But the real flooding will be on the low-lying areas of the Cape Flats, where more than 50mm of rain is expected to fall between mid-morning on Wednesday and the early hours of Thursday. The good news, however, is that more than double that is expected over the mountains of the Boland, which should really do the dams a lot of good.
Nevertheless, storm, flood and even frost damage is a real possibility; Bianca de Beer of Dialdirect Insurance has the following tips to minimise the danger:
Try not to leave your car standing outside. If you don’t have a garage, consider parking it in the undercover (not underground!) parking of a nearby shopping mall until the storm subsides.
Get off the road. If you get caught in a storm, look for cover in a covered car park, a petrol station or under a bridge (not under trees, where there is a danger of falling branches and debris). Be very careful pulling off the road; visibility will be very poor, so switch on your hazard lights and make sure the road behind you is clear.
Even if there is no shelter, pull off the road during very heavy rain as there is a real risk of aquaplaning through deep pools of water.
Specially for Capetonians: stay off the freeway bridge over Culemborg Station and Herzog Boulevard under the Civic Centre. If winds speeds exceed 120km/h these places will be very dangerous.
Don’t try to drive in flood conditions. De Beer warns that just 15cm of moving water – little more than ankle deep – can knock you off your feet and flood-water 60cm deep (up to the door sills) can sweep a car away. Flash floods often happen where rivers flow over low-lying bridges; avoid crossing bridges or driving on roads next to rivers during heavy rain – a case in point is the road leading to the River Club in Observatory.
If you find yourself on a flooded road, change down to the lowest possible gear and proceed slowly. And if you’re approaching a flooding storm-water drain (a strong possibility in the Southern Suburbs), just lift your foot off the accelerator and let the car’s speed drop naturally; hitting the brakes could cause the car to skid or aquaplane.
Put your garden furniture in the garage, or tie it down securely; gale force wind can throw a plastic chair against a window hard enough to break the glass.
If water starts coming into your house, switch off the electricity supply, shut down any gas appliances and close the main valve on the gas cylinder. Move valuable items – particularly electronics – upstairs, or at least to the highest possible shelf.
“Last but certainly not least,” said De Beer, “don’t ever think ‘It will never happen to me’. If it rains hard enough and the wind blows hard enough, it will.”