HEAVY snowfalls closed the N1 between Beaufort West and Richmondyesterday, cutting off one of the country’s main arterial routes for 10 hours.
The alternative route, via Victoria West, was also closed because of snowfalls, bringing traffic between Gauteng and theWestern Cape to a standstill for most of yesterday.
This was one of the effects of the extreme weather system that swept across the country yesterday, bringing snow, ice and rain to much of the region.
The SA Weather Service issued warnings of very cold weather for all provinces except Limpopo andNorth West.
The Garden Routehad heavy rain from Sunday, particularly in George and Knysna.
Residents of Beaufort West, theKarootown that was in the grip of one of the worst droughts six months ago, woke up yesterday to a town blanketed in snow.
The last time snow fell in the town with a semi-desert climate was in 1981.
Local resident Emmanuel de Gouvier said yesterday: “It was amazing. When I got up and looked outside, I thought: ‘Good God, are we inSwitzerland?’ The trees were all white, the grass was white, the cars were covered in snow. The last time we had snow was exactly 30 years ago.
In December we got water restrictions and the supply dam ran dry, and now in July, the town is covered in snow. It’s crazy.”
Elaine Davids, from Donkin Guest House in Beaufort West said it was bitterly cold.
“I think the temperatures are around 8 degrees (celsius),” she said yesterday afternoon.
The SA Weather Service said about half a metre of snow had fallen in most parts of the town yesterday.
Kenny Africa, chief director for traffic management in the region, said the N1 had been closed from dawn to about 3pm.
“We’ve opened it now,” he said yesterday afternoon, “because it began raining and the rain washed the snow off.
“The road is very slippery still and motorists must be careful. Luckily we got the message out very early to the radio stations, so most people stayed in whatever town they were in and we did not get a big back-up of traffic. The alternative route from Joburg toCape Town, via Victoria West, was also closed, so the two regions were cut off.
“I can only describe the scene with an Afrikaans word – sprokieswêreld – like a fairy tale world,”Africa said.
Resident Amanda Visser said: “It was such a beautiful sight this morning. My garden looked like an American Christmas. The snow was melted by the rain, but it’s still on the mountain.”
Yesterday the coldest towns inSouth Africawere Fouriesburg in theFree Statenear theLesothoborder, andDordrechtand Balfour in theEastenCapeinterior. All three towns recorded a minimum temperature of minus 30C.
The windiest towns in the country were Langebaan, Saldanha and Paternoster on the West Coast.
Knysna in theEdenMunicipalityexperienced heavy rainfall from Sunday.
Gerhard Otto, disaster manager for theEdenDistrictMunicipality, said: “Some areas in the our municipality experienced heavy rains, but fortunately it didn’t cause any damage.”
Rian Smit of the Weather Service said the rain and snow were the result of a cut-off low pressure system.
Smit said it was very unusual for theWestern Capeto experience a south-easterly surface circulation at this time of the year.
Because of the south-easterly circulation,Cape Townand the western part of the province had not had much precipitation.
Swartland farmers are worried that the current dry weather will have a negative effect on their crops. Swartland wheat farmers are “dryland” farmers, who do not irrigate their crops, but rely on rain.
The Weather Service said the seasonal rainfall forecasts for this region were below average.
Agri-WesCape’s Corporate Communications Manager, Porchia Adams, said yesterday that farmers were concerned about the unusual weather for this time of the year, but were are hopeful that rainfall would soon resume.
She said the severity of the dry spell for agriculture would be determined only in few months time. There was no significant crop damage yet.
“But we remain cautious and worried about the situation,” she said.
According to forecasts there is a 30 percent chance of rain inCape Town tomorrow and a 60 percent chance on Thursday.
Johannesburg residents should take precautionary measures to ensure their safety ahead of anticipated snowfall and extreme cold conditions, the city’s emergency services said yesterday.
The SA Weather Service on Monday forecast extremely cold weather conditions for much of the country until at least tomorrow.
Morokane said those using local roads, whether a driver or commuter, were particularly at risk of injury or even death during cold conditions.
“Drivers should keep a safe following distance and reduce speed as the tar is slippery.
Emergency services recommended that families hold a discussion on how to keep safe in winter.