HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsSnowfall: Signs of the time

Snowfall: Signs of the time


It is not just hot air. No! Climate change could also mean more snow.

Unexpected snowfall in Eastern South Africa and freezing temperatures in Zimbabwe respectively during the last week, have been described by climate experts as a feature of global warming.

The heavy snow in South Africa triggered the closure of two of its main highways linking the capital Pretoria and nearby Johannesburg in the country’s north to Cape Town in the south, the local Road Traffic Management said.

The snow last Tuesday also disrupted air and rail transportation. The snow also forced closure of shops and schools.

According to officials, there are no alternative bypass routes. The prospects are made worse by forecasters warning that the snowfall was likely to continue until Sunday (yesterday).

Weather forecasters said: “Latest models indicate that a second cold front will move in over South Africa today (Saturday). Very cold conditions are expected over the north-western high ground of the Western Cape and southern high ground of the Northern Cape.

“Very rough seas with wave heights from 4m to 6m is expected to develop between Cape Columbine and Plettenberg Bay and gale force westerly to north-westerly wind (65km/h) is expected between Cape Point and Cape Agulhas in the afternoon.

There is also a possibility of snow on the high mountains of the Northern and Western Cape.”

Parts of South Africa usually receive a dusting about once or twice a year, but the storm that hit large parts of the eastern half of the country last week dumped up to 60 cm in some areas. “Snow is not unheard of, but it is usually not this extreme,” national weather service forecaster Karl Loots was quoted as telling Reuters.

South Africa experienced its coldest night on record two nights last week, and even in Zimbabwe it was extremely cold triggering bouts of flu. I had not been downed by flu in a very long time, but this time around it is something else and I am still recovering.

The adverse weather has shocked and surprised many locals, with forecasters warning that worse conditions could follow. Perhaps global warming sceptics would point to the heavy amount of snowfall South Africa has experienced this year. However, they could be wrong, according to a sampling of scientific opinion.

Experts caution that there may be more winters like this, where snowfall has so far nearly doubled the norm. But that would be only until it gets too hot to snow, they added.

A professor of geophysics in the US Raymond Pierrehumbert said: “ln the simulations I’ve analysed, you can get some quite big blizzards up until the year 2040. But between 2040 and 2080, it starts to get too warm to have much snow at all and it gradually sort of peters out.”

Climatologists say snowfall is more difficult to predict than rain because it depends on a broader range of factors, such as atmospheric temperature and the la Nina phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean. What they do agree on, however, is that warmer atmospheres can hold more precipitation.

Of course, one winter season can’t be taken as an indication of future climate patterns. This year’s average winter temperatures will probably end up below normal.

But this season’s precipitation levels, combined with atypical temperature fluctuations around the country, reflect what climate experts say will be some of the side effects of global warming.

A recent study suggests global warming will result in more extreme rain and snowfall as warmer temperatures speed up evaporation and allow clouds to hold more precipitation.

Snowfall is part of a continuing pattern of cold snaps across Africa that has also seen unprecedented ice storms in Kenya, resulting in four inch deep hail covering the ground.

The cold snap, which has triggered health problems within the populace in the country, arrives on the back of the sun reaching a milestone not observed in nearly 100 years.
Zimbabwe’s temperatures soaring into a heat wave last year topped over 40 degrees Celsius in areas like Kariba, Harare, Bulawayo, Gokwe, Chiredzi and elsewhere.

China experienced its coldest winter in 100 years while northeast America was hit by record snow levels — Sydney experienced its coldest August for 60 years and Britain suffered its coldest April in decades, all this happening from 2008.

Rapid decrease in solar activity is an event that has always preceded so called mini-ice age periods throughout history, no wonder then that many scientists are predicting prolonged global cooling.

Not those in Zimbabwe or South Africa, however.
In a South African Independent article titled: “Warming has a hand in recent wild weather”, Joanne Yawitch, the deputy director general of the department of environmental affairs noted that “climate change”, as in man-made climate change, was playing a role in the adverse weather patterns.

“What it raises for South Africa is the ability to develop a [resilience] to weather changes and how to deal with these,” she said then.

Her utterances echoed those of World Wildlife Fund development and sustainability programme manager Paul Toni, who told reporters in Australia that: “The freezing temperatures are proof of the urgent need to cut carbon pollution.”

Indeed — in case you weren’t aware of the new climate change catch-all explanation, man-made CO2 emissions could cause global cooling as well as global warming.

Hence, all weather events, be it snow, rainfall, storms, hurricanes, typhoons or earthquakes could also be caused by CO2 emissions. This is because none of the current weather trends fit in with the notion that has been pushed for the better part of a decade now that an overall heating of the Earth mandates the poor and middle classes be hit with multiple forms of lifestyle restriction and CO2 taxation, in order to save the planet.


Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading