It’s official: the Western Cape is in the grip of a heatwave.
For the second day in a row, the SA Weather Service has warned of “extremely uncomfortable, hot conditions” and a high risk of veld fires.
And, with a high of 32°C predicted for Cape Town’s CBD on Tuesday, the heat is well and truly on.
On Monday, temperatures soared to 35°C in the city centre. At 38°C, the harbour was the hottest place in the city.
But that was nothing compared with the West Coast town of Redelinghuys, which hit 43°C. Malmesbury and Wellington also recorded 43°C, though this dropped slightly at the end of the day. Paarl reached 39°C and it was 35°C in Strand.
Gerrie Keyser, a meteorologist with the SA Weather Service, laughed off reports that Vredendal had recorded temperatures as high as 51°C.
Sometimes, he said, people climbed into their cars and believed that the vehicle’s thermometer reflected the temperature outside.
“The temperature in your car is not necessarily representative of what is happening outside.”
Meteorologists define a heatwave as three days during which it is, on average, 5º warmer than the mean temperature during the hottest month of the year.
Cape Town’s hottest month is February, when the mean temperature is 28°C.
This meant that three days of temperatures reaching or exceeding 33°C would be defined as a heatwave, the service’s Henning Grobler said.
Keyser said meteorologists forecast a city’s temperature with a 2º margin, since the temperature around a weather station was measured and it could be cooler or warmer elsewhere in the city. Therefore, 32°C at a weather station could be 34°C further afield.
A high of 32°C is also predicted in the CBD for Wednesday, although Monday Capetonians weren’t too concerned with the numbers: they knew it was hot and they flocked to beaches, pools, the Company’s Garden in the CBD and anywhere else with a ready water supply, in a desperate bid to cool down.
The province’s Metro Emergency Medical Services’ Keri Davids said they had received no reports of heat-related deaths, but she urged caution in extreme heat: drink water throughout the day, stay out of the sun as much as possible and put on sunscreen when outdoors.
“If you are going hiking or to the beach, tell someone where you’re going because getting lost in this heat can be unsafe.”
She also encouraged people to check a town or city’s weather forecast before going there, so as not to get caught off guard by the weather.
However, many sun-worshipping Capetonians and tourists weren’t interested in staying in the shade and the beaches and surrounds were packed.
Early Monday evening, hundreds were still flocking to Sea Point’s popular Promenade, jogging and walking and cooling off in the public pool.
In the Company’s Garden, groups of fully clothed children frolicked in the spray from sprinklers.
Herbert Conradie, the owner of Hippo Rock Clothing in Paarl, said: “I was seriously thinking about moving yesterday. In the factory we measured 41º.”
Late in the afternoon, scores of people were seen swimming, illegally, in the Berg River, which runs through Paarl, but authorities kindly turned a blind eye.
“We were dying here! It was 41!” reported Franschhoek police Captain Nomvuyo Mita.
The Western Cape Education Department appealed to schools to ensure that pupils have access to water, said Education MEC Donald Grant’s spokeswoman Bronagh Casey.
“We also ask schools to ensure that learners are comfortable, for example, by allowing learners to loosen ties or remove shoes and socks.
“Schools will use their discretion as far as extramural activities are concerned. This will include avoiding sport or exercise in the heat. Children should stay in shade wherever possible.”
The department would not close schools “because children in many areas are better off at school than at home”.
“Learners are supervised while at school and are less likely to spend time in the sun.”
Meanwhile, viticulturists are closely monitoring their vineyards. Viticulturist Paul Wallace, from the Elgin Valley, said that in extremely high temperatures over a prolonged period vines started shutting down their transpiration processes to protect themselves, while there was also forced ripening