Extreme weather bouts becoming more frequent in South Africa

The tornado that reportedly touched down in Bethal, Mpumalanga on Monday evening captured in video footage by a local resident. Picture: Twitter

The tornado that reportedly touched down in Bethal, Mpumalanga on Monday evening captured in video footage by a local resident. Picture: Twitter

Published Nov 14, 2023


Over the course of 2023 so far, South Africans have had to endure bouts of extreme weather in the form of heavy rains and floods, snow, hail storms, and tornadoes across the country.

We take a look at some of the most extreme weather cases reported throughout 2023.

At the tail end of June this year, the South African Weather Service (Saws) issued a standard report for inclement weather that was going to affect parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

But on Tuesday, June 29, residents in the Inanda and Phoenix areas, north of Durban, were shocked to see what looked like a tornado developing from the storm clouds.

What was once perceived to be a tornado actually turned out to be a “landspout”, according to Saws in a News24 report.

Saws said the landspout and tornado share similarities but form in different ways.

Tornadoes are also accompanied by lightning and thunderstorms, which were not present at the time.

Saws said landspouts were not as vicious as a tornado.

In September, 11 lives were lost in the Western Cape during a severe storm that brought heavy rains and subsequent flooding.

The Saws issued a Level 6 warning and said the Garden Route was most likely to be affected by the bad weather.

The resulting storm lasted two days, September 24-25, which saw monstrous waves crash against the coastline and strong winds uprooting homes and trees.

Over 200 roads across the province were closed as a result of blockages or flooding, authorities said.

Four of the 11 deceased were children. Reports from Western Cape media indicated that the children were electrocuted by illegal connections.

The small town of Stanford, between Hermanus and Gansbaai, was underwater for a large part of the storm.

IOL spoke to a journalist in the community who, along with his wife, almost lost their lives while trying to evacuate their homes as the water level rose.

Kevin McCallum and his wife, Keri-Ann Stanton, tried to leave the area with their vehicle but were swept off due to the force of the water.

They got lodged up against a tree, and community members embarked on a daring rescue mission, which saved the lives of McCallum and Stanton.

“We got swept about one hundred metres down the road, and if it hadn’t been for this tree ... we hit this tree with the back of the car and got lodged up against the tree.

“If we hadn’t hit that tree, we would have ended up in the river and died,” McCallum explained.

In October 2023, KwaZulu-Natal residents were once again taken into a state of anxiety when heavy rains caused flooding in northern parts of the province, particularly the Mtubatuba area.

Saws had issued an Orange Level 6 weather warning ahead of the storm that hit the KZN coastline.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) confirmed at the time that at least four people lost their lives during the storm.

Hundreds of homes and a number of critical State infrastructures also sustained damage.

“Up to now, more than 70 houses in the Somkhele and KwaMyeki areas have been identified as destroyed. Some houses suffered complete damage, rendering families homeless.

“There are also reports of damaged vehicles, and in certain areas, Eskom poles and cables are scattered across roads and people's properties. Community halls and churches have opened their doors to the public, while others have sought alternative accommodation with relatives,” Cogta said.

This came just over a year after the province suffered the worst flooding in decades, claiming over 450 lives and displacing thousands.

Electricity, road, and water infrastructure were destroyed throughout KZN, as residents were left for weeks toiling through debris and mud looking for their belongings.

On Monday evening, residents in Johannesburg had their homes, cars, and property damaged by a severe hail storm.

IOL reported on Monday evening that residents living in Midrand, Fourways, and surrounding areas reported large hailstones from around 5pm.

Motorists were also left stranded on the N1 as golf ball-sized hailstones fell on their cars and also caused hazards on the road.

Joburg Emergency Management Services (EMS) spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said during a live broadcast that there were no casualties, while one patient was treated for minor injuries.

Monday evening was also hazardous for residents in Bethal, Mpumalanga, where a tornado touched down together with hailstones.

Videos of the phenomenon circulated online, which was also spotted by authorities.

“So we also saw that video and pictures online, and it looks to be true. You can tell by how the trees were swirling in the video, which gives some indication as to the intensity of the tornado,” Vanetia Phakula from the Saws said.

“Our teams have not yet managed to get on the ground to assess the damages and try and figure out how severe it actually was.”