Day 104 – Tenuous tsunami parallels

Let’s make things clear right from the start here.

I’m not saying that Cape Town is going to get hit by a tsunami.
We’ve covered that concern here: something I would strongly advise you to read if you think that people are paranoid about Covid-19. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

They walk among us.

But I digress. Often.

One of the enduring images of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami was the drawback: the water disappearing from the shorelines of beaches and resorts about to be hit by the tsunami, effectively (some would say ‘exactly’) like a huge low tide.

In some places, this drawback was up to a kilometre. And in most cases, there was good correlation between the size of the drawback and the extent of the damage caused by the tsunami that followed.

If we ignore all scientific reason for a moment and apply this clear inverse proportionality to tomorrow’s predicted storm, I think we’re in trouble. Because today’s weather in Cape Town could not be calmer or more beautiful. So still. So clear. So utterly perfect.

Not a cloud in the sky. Not a breath of wind.

If only there were some term that one could use to describe such a period of placid weather ahead of a predicted tempest.

And yet… just out there in the bottom left corner:

A frothing mass of low pressure, general misery, howling winds and all the rain we didn’t get in 2017. All due to begin tomorrow afternoon/evening and then be followed in by a second front on Sunday into Monday.

And our eyes are already on another vicious lump of nastiness heading out of Uruguay towards SA like Luis Suarez’s poor sportsmanship and bad temper in 2010.

And possibly every bit as bitey.

But let’s just get through this weekend first. Here’s what we’re expecting to see at 0800 local time on Friday morning:

Big winds, much rain, huge waves, general unpleasantness.

In all seriousness though, it does look like quite a nasty one, so please look out for your community and maybe consider helping out your local shelter, which will obviously be under more pressure than usual over the next few days.

Day 103 – “Eventful” Thursday

I knew that there was a winter cold front coming through to Cape Town this week. I didn’t know it was a winter cold front like this though…

“The entire weather community in South Africa has eyes on the mammoth cold front developing in the South Atlantic. This system, arriving Thursday, promises to bring heavy rains and widespread snow to a great deal of SA and even Namibia if the system stays on track.
Our forecasts show this system is not only staying on course but is also strengthening substantially and should make for one of the most eventful winter weekend in Southern Africa in many years.”

And yes,that MASSIVE bank of white stuff off the coast of South America is heading our way.

And I’m not saying that it’s going to be big (although it is), but even Cape Agulhas Municipality decided to teach their residents about the basics so that they could be ready, with awesome lines such as this:

Descriptions: Snow
Snow is precipitation in the form of flakes of crystalline water ice that fall from clouds. Since snow is composed of small ice particles, it is a granular material.

Amazing. Who knew?

I’ll be keeping an eye on this (the weather, not the description of snow) as it approaches and update again tomorrow.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay warm.

Day 102, part 2 – Cape Town from space (2)

Doug Hurley (one half of space duo Bob and Doug) yesterday tweeted some pictures of South African cities (Joburg, Pretoria and Cape Town) taken from the International Space Station.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen Cape Town from space – remember Randy Bresnick’s August 2017 image?

I’ve rotated Doug’s image to make it more recognisable and conventional.

False Bay at the bottom, Table Bay top left (with spots of light from ships moored on the anchorage), Somerset West and Strand bottom right. All white Stellenbosch (I mean with LED street lighting, not exclusively race) middle right.

Four and a half million people in just 50cm². Amazing

Day 78 – Numbers

Just a quick one here from me today, because there’s really not much that can be said or done about the situation we find ourselves in now, but I probably want to record it here so that when I look back on these crazy times, I can nod sagely and note that I recorded the situation here.

To call them a network of spies would be a bit over the top, but I have a number of people with whom I am in regular (electronic) contact, and who work in labs, clinics, hospitals and the like around Cape Town.

And none of them are saying that things are going well at the moment.

In fact, it seems that things are completely out of control.

While we are watching all of the Covid-19 numbers going through the metaphorical roof here, it would appear that it is far from the whole story.

People who have Covid-19 are not being tested: I’m hearing this from everyone, everywhere.

One individual working at a City clinic has told me that she estimates that only 1 in every 20 patients presenting there with Covid-19 symptoms is being tested for the disease at the moment. Only patients with proven co-morbidities and those over the age of 55 are eligible for testing. I’ve mentioned these “new” rules before in this post, but I didn’t know about the numbers that are being affected by these guidelines (put in place because there aren’t enough test kits to go around).

Let’s break for a few quick points here.

Firstly, this is only one person’s estimation at one clinic. But it’s a story I have heard often, and she’s experienced, she knows what she’s about and she is really not prone to exaggeration.
But sure, it is just her view at one clinic.

Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with assessing people clinically.

Doctors diagnosing TB have been doing clinical diagnoses at City clinics for ages, but with one notable difference – they test at the same time. The test result takes n days to come back, but the doctors, having seen what TB looks like in thousands of patients each year, know exactly what TB looks like, and can get the patient on treatment n days earlier than if they’d waited for the result. These days, n is much lower than it used to be, so it makes less of a difference, but I’m sure it’s saved a lot of infections and a lot of lives over the years.
But importantly, the reported number of TB patients remains accurate, because the TB test is done and recorded. (Ironically, Covid-19 will have a huge detrimental effect on the accuracy of the reported TB numbers for 2020, because patients aren’t turning up to clinics for testing and treatment, but that’s another story.)

Patients who present with clinical Covid-19 but don’t make the grade for testing are sent home and told to isolate for 14 days. That’s the same advice they would have been given if they had tested positive. So no change there.
But they won’t be counted as a positive, even though they almost certainly are, because we get our numbers from tests conducted, not patients seen and they were seen, but they weren’t tested.

Do they isolate? Hopefully, but maybe not.
Do they infect (or have they infected) other people who also can’t get tested? Likely, yes.
Do those people get counted as positives? No.
Do any of them die? Maybe. Probably.
If they do, are they counted as a Covid-19 death? Almost certainly not.

So when Covid-19 tests aren’t being done, we can’t rely on the numbers we’re seeing to make any informed decisions. But as I’ve said, the only important inference we can draw from this is that we’re completely overwhelmed, so there’s literally nothing more that can be done anyway, and we are all very well aware of that.

Thirdly, when you know that you’re not going to be tested, you don’t even present at the clinic. You’re feeling crap and you don’t want to hang around for hours in the cold for nothing. So essentially, that 5% that is being tested and which is the tip of the iceberg, is actually 5% of another tip of another iceberg.

Look, however you choose to view this, the upshot here is that we are far, far worse off than the official figures are – or ever will be – able to tell us. 

The system is so overwhelmed that it can’t tell us just how overwhelmed it is.

And we’ll probably never be able to prove this or say exactly how much worse off we actually are, which is irritating because in the future some people will suggest that this whole thing was a lot less severe than it actually was, and more seriously, we’ll not be able to learn important lessons which we would have used to set us up better to deal with the next viral pandemic.

South Africa is at a Covid-19 crossroads, and none of the roads are looking like good options right now.

Ironically, metaphorically and literally just staying right where we are might be our best option. Limiting the spread of the virus – especially at the time we are seeing the highest rate of infections ever – is hugely important.

If you can: Stay home, stay safe, make a difference. Please.

Images snipped from here.

Day 48 – Plenty to go around

There aren’t a lot of positives at the moment ( I shared my observations on that here). But sometimes, all you have to do is look at the glass being half-full, rather than half-empty.

Sorry… did I say “glass? I meant dams.


I really don’t want to be the first to mention this, but we’re halfway through May and we’ve not had any significant rainfall in the Cape yet. It’s stirring up early memories of the drought we went through between 2015-2018. While the virus has been (rightfully) taking centre stage, there are so many other problems that are still out there – they haven’t gone away just because we’re facing a bigger challenge right now.

The City has been (quietly) keeping us up to date with the demand for water and the dam levels. As you might expect in Autumn, (hopefully) heading into the rainy season, the dam levels aren’t all that they could be and they continue to decline slowly each week with the population using water and it not being replaced at quite the same rate.

I’m sure you know how it works.

However, it seems that the Covid-19 crisis might have some very positive spin-offs for the impending dry wet season – at least according to FB commenter Joachim:


Look, he’s not wrong: fewer residents use less water.


There’s plenty of evidence of people leaving the city and trying to head home to their family homes in the Eastern Cape. And indeed, piles of corpses overwhelming our local medical facilities are unlikely to bathe, water their gardens or leave the tap running while they brush their teeth.

Which will save a fair bit as well.

But am I alone in thinking that Joachim hasn’t really gone through all of the implications of the situation he describes in his comment before sharing it with the world?