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It sometimes seems to me that we in Betty’s Bay sit in the middle of a square with one of the ancient elements, Fire, Water, Air and Earth poised at each corner, ready to pounce on us unexpectedly!

Fire is an omnipresent hazard which affects us all and of course we all fear its devastation and take whatever precautions we can to minimise the initial ignition of fires, and fight fires when lit. Gale-driven fires are not only terrifying, spreading rapidly (dare I say it, like wildfire?), but are seriously life-threatening to BB residents in its path. Thank goodness for our determined and highly professional firefighters who hit fires fast and low.

Water, ah yes, the recent flooding of the Harold Porter Gardens region and the associated washing away of roads shows yet again the raw, naked power of rapidly flowing water. During summer, we have too little of it and at other times far too much. Our mountain water is very pure at source although those unused to it may find its tea colour off-putting at first. Have you noticed how quickly the brown colour disappears when the streams mix with seawater? Salt decolourises the organic chemical compounds responsible for the tint and no, the colour is not from “iron”!

Water is life-giving yet even traces of a pollutant or a relatively few micro-organisms (“bugs”) in it will turn the drinking of such water into a very unpleasant experience.

Water is an excellent vector (carrier) of a wide variety of pathogens and since it dissolves so many substances, may also contain all sorts of stuff from its sources, from what it flows over, or from whatever else careless humans have chucked into it.

Calm, azure-blue seawater is beguilingly attractive, yet the sea becomes like a wild beast when waves and storm winds ravage the shoreline and indifferently push the unwary sailor, paddle-skier or swimmer out to sea to perish of hypothermia or drowning. Our BB sea is quite unpredictable and must never ever be taken for granted.

Air in motion-wind-is an almost constant companion for those fortunate enough to live in Betty’s Bay. The mountain walls behind us force the winds into blowing from completely opposing directions, either north west or south east. The north-wester accelerates, and becomes both warmer and drier as it rolls in large horizontal cylinders of air down the mountain slopes towards us, arriving in a series of very powerful gusts interspersed with calmer periods-the gusts do all the damage. After the passage of a cold front, the winds back to west to south-west and significantly colder weather with heavy showers arrives, the rain bursts often accompanied by a clap or two of thunder and some hail. These post-frontal showers deposit snow on higher ground.

Other winds are less common, for instance a moderate southerly wind is quite cool and may create fog patches, while a northerly wind often brings in very hot, very dry, air from the interior as a “berg wind”.

However, if the wind freshens from the north east look out for bad weather like continuous, really heavy, rain or a “black” south-easter. This wind is often noted ahead of a “cut-off low”, the weather phenomenon which caused both the destructive floods of 2005 and those of November 15th 2013. So, should a forecaster mention a cut-off low, be very, very wary and “batten down the hatches” as they say. These experiences have shown beyond any doubt that our local road engineers need to take a long hard look at their storm water drains-or lack of these! Intense bursts of rain like this will inevitably recur in future years. The flood water has to be diverted from dwellings to avoid costly flood water damage and away from regular road surfaces, otherwise the water rapidly cuts a gully through these, or undercuts the verges, which is not only inconvenient to residents losing access but is expensive to repair. A properly engineered storm water drain takes the water harmlessly away to the green belt, dune fields, or to a clear river course draining to the sea.

We are showered almost horizontally with rain from the northwest in winter and sand-blasted in summer by the south-easter. Gales are highly destructive, ripping off poorly secured roofs, felling trees, whipping up the sea, blowing clouds of sand where we do not want these and fanning even seemingly cold embers in the fynbos into fiery life. But the wind also cools those scorching summer days down and the south-easter brings nutrient rich, but chilly, deeper seawater to the surface to nourish vast blooms of plankton on which our fish feed.

Betty’s Bay’s Earth is mostly porous, rather poor, sandy soil on which our fynbos nevertheless flourishes. Were it not porous Betty’s Bay would be one large vlei! The water is still there under the ground with powerful unseen flows from mountain sources advancing towards the shore. These invisible streams both nourish and water the hardy, yet fragile, specially adapted plants that naturally bind our dune sands. As groundwater flow is diminished by more and more building of homes and roads, the dune plants, often trampled by careless feet too, die off, loosen their grip on the sand, and off the sand goes on the next gust of wind. Some groundwater pops up in springs here and there and of course feeds our surface water vleis from beneath. Regrettably, some contaminated water from sewage soakaways also finds its way into our ground water.

All those steep cliffs behind us were uplifted aeons ago by granite intrusions from deep in the earth heaving up the sandstone layers, themselves sitting atop Malmesbury shales which peek out along our beach. Immense forces were involved bending, twisting and faulting in these layers of hard rock with the greatest of ease. Table Mountain too was heaved up millions of years ago by granite pushing it up from under and when formed was about 5000 m high, the same height as Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe today. Steady geological weathering has worn it down to its present height of just over 1000 m. The mostly subsurface granites are visible here and there, probably the best known near to us are Paarl Rock and the granite boulders at Clifton Beach and Boulders, near Simonstown. Geological faulting set up the kloofs of the Harold Porter Gardens and the river flowing out of here passes into a flood plain. This was once under the sea, when sea level was around 25 m higher than today, and is called either a ‘raised beach’ or a ‘wave-cut platform’, whatever you wish.

About 2500 years ago, Confucius is reputed to have said “Study the past if you would define the future”. Perhaps this quotation should be framed and set prominently on the wall of the Municipality’s management offices?

Betty’s Bay is a wonderful place to live in even if it is regularly subject to the combined wrath of the ancient elements!

 

zeus

Zeus aiming his thunderbolts at some unfortunate.

 

umbrella

Wind renders umbrellas pretty useless in Betty’s Bay!

 

cold front

If you spot a cloud like this-keep your head down; a cold front is about to make landfall!

 

supercell

If you ever spot a cloud like this-take cover, fast! It is a photo of a real supercell thunderstorm in North America.