KAROO DIARY: Snow Business

If you’re warm and you’re safe, it’s such a jol to be in the Karoo when it snows…

Gauteng overlanders jump out of their heated cars and play like children.
Gauteng overlanders jump out of their heated cars and play like children.

This weekend the forecasters predicted a serious cold front and there was a ripple of expectation as soon as Snow Report posted their map of likely snowfalls. Everyone close to high-lying ground took note and precautions.

This is what it’s like in the Karoo when an intense frontal low hits home.

Typically by 6 am, the snow pictures are being posted on Facebook and WhatsApp. The farms in mountainous parts of the Karoo send news first. Minus 3 degrees on the kitchen windowsill and minus 11 down at the chicken hoks.

The highest mountains have their heads in clouds, undergoing a makeover into scenery from Game of Thrones.

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Karoo mountains are at their best when covered in snow.

As soon as it’s light, you’ll find bakkies packed full of people heading up the mountain passes to see the snow, kids bug-eyed with excitement, bundled into their warmest clothes.

Every little thing is turned into an event. Passing Gautengers leap out of their heated cars like children and start pelting each other with snowballs and leaping around in thin leisureware, taking selfies. People in EC registered bakkies make snowmen, fingers turning blue in the process.

There’s no question of work as usual. The pubs light fires and fill up early.

The whole Karoo, in fact the whole country, is suddenly united around a central topic: Sjoe, it’s cold hey?

Now all the stories start coming out, many of them featuring fridges. You hear about Tannie So-and-So in Britstown who has to put her false teeth in the fridge otherwise she finds them in frozen Steradent the next morning.

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Pubs like Die Ramstal in Nieu-Bethesda light their fires and open their doors all day when it’s snow time.

Similarly, someone in Calvinia says they have to keep the butter and milk in the fridge to stop them freezing solid.

Chickens take 3 days to thaw, and only if they’re put in the fridge. Otherwise it takes 5 days.

Someone notes on Facebook that adding a few drops of Vodka to water will stop it from turning to ice. Well, what a good excuse!

People around the Karoo post pictures of bird baths, fountains and even frozen farm dams (complete with full grown men lying on the ice).

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Iced-up farm gate creates landscape art deep in the Karoo.

Here’s the picture, along with a report from the last cold front in July: Rapport

Suddenly it really strikes home why the most significant mountain ranges in the Eastern Cape are called Sneeuberge, Winterberge and Stormberge.

Also that this vast high semi-desert is bracketed between two of South Africa’s coldest towns: Sutherland in the west and Molteno in the east. Sutherland is known for its consistently low night and daytime temperatures through the year. Molteno, on the other hand, holds the record for the coldest temperatures ever recorded in South Africa – minus 20.2 deg C, measured on an official SA Weather Services instrument on Buffelsfontein Farm in 2012.

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On snow patrol with Cradock’s Ryno Ferreira behind the Defender’s wheel.

This year, in July, it dropped to minus 19.3 deg C during a black frost that even killed some hardy Aloe ferox plants in the Karoo.

Although it can bring drama, Karoo farmers appreciate snow, even though it came so late this winter. As it melts, the snow seeps gently into the ground, ready for first growth. It flushes the small streams in spring with its clear water. The cold kills many pests and boosts the growth of fruit and roses.

So this year, as with every year, the snow was virtually embraced, even though the livestock farmers had to cram their vulnerable freshly shorn lambs and Angora goats into sheds and other shelter.

By tomorrow, probably, spring will resume. The snow has already slid off the tall blue gums and the snowmen melted to the point of unrecognisable skinniness. And the dancing Gautengers have all gone home…

Pop-up snowmen go up all over the wintery Karoo.
Pop-up snowmen go up all over the wintery Karoo.

Photographs by Chris Marais