Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Johannesburg Spring - Big Storms and Pretty Flowers

So-called winter in Johannesburg is very dry and sunny, with 'cold' evenings (it can reach 0 degrees at night - that's actually pretty freezing when you consider nobody here has central heating...) Everything starts to turn a very dusty shade of yellow and the earth is bone dry as throughout the Joburg winter it does not rain, at all. I enjoyed the winter here. Everyday was a bright blue sky day and I didn't get sunburn once, but I have been looking forward to some real African heat for quite a while now.

In contrast to the winter spring in Johannesburg is defined largely by its incredible thunderstorms which seem to occur most evenings, and by the magnificent displays of purple and white blossoms on the jacaranda trees. I am enjoying spring too.

The pretty flowers

Jacarandas are not native to South Africa and were actually brought here in the 1880s from South America by the bucket load - Pretoria is said to have the best collection with over 40,000 trees. They are a beautiful addition to the vast urban forest that makes up most of Johannesburg. In some areas due to their status as an 'invasive species' they are being felled or allowed to die, but in the area where we live (Illovo/Rosebank) they remain untouched. Apparently they should be due to finish their big bloom any day now, but so far they have managed to survive the aforementioned incredible thunderstorms and are looking as strong as ever.

The big storms

Now I am not sure if it is something to do with our latitude, our height (1750 metres above sea level) or if it is just an aspect of Southern Africa as a whole, but I swear I have never seen quite such awesome thunderstorms as I have here.

Recently we spent a weekend out in the sticks at our beloved Riverside Retreat near Parys, Free State (just over an hour from Joburg) and oh boy, was there a storm that night! The lights flickered while the roof quaked under loud torrents of brief but heavy rains and then the very walls of our little hut began to wobble at the booming thunder. It was terribly exciting, immense and ever so slightly disconcerting (thatched roof, crazy lightning, think about it...) all at the same time. Funnily enough when we ventured out the next morning, the landscape was green, dry and all-intact, as if nothing had ever happened. I have never experienced a thunderstorm quite like it.

The dark clouds roll in

Back in Johannesburg I briefly became obsessed with trying to take pictures of the spectacular lightning bolts during these daily storms. From the balcony of our apartment block you can see quite far out over the distant hills and the light show is pretty spectacular, but alas I think lightning photography is not my thing - it requires being a proper photographer with lots of patience and smart equipment. I do not have these things and so didn't manage to capture one bolt. 

There was one night not long ago that the big daily storm came at quite the perfect moment - right before sunset. The result was some incredible rosy red storm clouds that I would have made the effort to climb up onto the roof to look at from a better angle, were I not afraid of subsequently being struck by lightning. The Wanderers cricket stadium (next door to us) were hosting a local cricket match so our garden was swamped with light from the floodlights. It didn't help with taking pictures of the sunset clouds, but it did help me see the massive raindrops and spooky black clouds a lot better. South Africa has made me start liking all kinds of new things - even rain!
Storm cloud sunset (from our balcony)...

...and storm cloud rain
So far I haven't found a Johannesburg season that I don't like. What are you gonna throw at me next South Africa? Summer?! Well, I cannot wait!


  1. I've never seen storms like the ones I've seen here this Spring. And we thought it rained in the UK, eh?!

    The jacaranda trees are amazing. Approaching the city and seeing the purple trees dotted across the hillsides is a sight I will never forget.

    1. I love the jacarandas - I am already starting to forget what it looked like without them! Us Brits and our weather, honestly when you've seen the Moscow blizzards and the Joburg thunderstorms you really start to wonder why British people are always on about the 'terrible' weather in the UK?! It's all quite pedestrian by comparison ;)

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