When I think of Cape Town, the first thing that comes to mind is Table Mountain surrounding the City Bowl.
Having lived in the city bowl for most of my life, I have had the privilege of walking the mountain, have learned much about the history and folklore behind the clouds and wind and I have learned to ‘read’ the weather signs.
It amazed me when I found that some of us don’t actually know about the little clues hidden in clouds so I thought it time I shared them with you.
We have all seen are pictures of the famous white table cloth and some of us have even been privy to the force of the South Easter wind.
The legendary story behind the Table Cloth
The story tells about a Dutch man called Jan van Hunks who lived at the foot of the mountain around the 1700s. He was quite the pipe smoker. His wife would boot him out the house when he felt the need to light one up and one day, while smoking on the slopes of the mountain, he met a mysterious stranger who also smoked. They then proceeded to brag about how they could out-smoke the other and a contest began. The story goes on to say that the smoking stranger was the Devil and Van Hunks eventually won the contest, but not before the smoke that they had made had covered the mountain, creating the famous table cloth. It just so happens to appear when the South Easter blows and locals will tell you that Van Hunks and the devil are at it again.
The science behind it….
Table Mountain’s “tablecloth” is a type of cloud formation which comes from the forced lifting of air by the earth’s topography. The south easterly wind blows up the mountain slopes, meets the cold air at the top, condenses and turns into mist which then pours over the top. It disappears because the process is then reversed…. the clouds pile into warmer air, evaporates and disappears. How magic is science?
What does this tell us about the weather?
Well, the table-cloth is pretty much only ever around in the summer months… as in, when the wind blows.Cape Town turns into ‘windy city’ with the South Easter blowing from around October through to March. Its really just a fair weather or trade wind. Locals refer to this wind as the Cape Doctor (in former times, believed to clear the air of disease; nowadays, locals know it to free us of the city smog). The total upside to the wind, apart from the clean air, is that never brings rain to the Cape!
So, if you see the tablecloth, you pretty much know that the next day will be a beaut!
Clouds and Lion’s head
Well, if there’s cloud around Lion’s head, the rest of the mountain will have clouds too and the skies will be great and the weather will be miserable and it will be, well, winter! Having said that, most locals will tell you that even on the most beautiful of days, is there is a cloud on Lion’s Head and nowhere else, it will definitely rain the next day.
Just when you thought you had it all covered…we do sometimes experience ALL four Seasons in one Day. In winter that is!
If you chat to any Cape Tonian you will most likely find that they quite possibly have at least a scarf or jacket in the back of their cars, even on the hottest of days! It’s one thing to stay tuned to weather channels, but when in the Cape you should never underestimate our weather! It can change dramatically in just half an hour. So if ever you were worried about what the weather might be doing, look to our mountains for guidance. You might still want to pack that extra jacket, just in case!