August 4, 2006

ODD NEWS : Rare snowfall across South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Snow fell on South Africa's biggest city Johannesburg for the first time in 25 years as icy temperatures gripped vast swathes of the country, the weather office said.

"It (the snow) is by no means freakish but I would certainly classify it as rare," said Kevin Rae, assistant manager of forecasting at the South African Weather Service in Pretoria.

Residents frolic in the snow in Clarens, South Africa, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006. While Americans sweat through a heat wave, the country is facing some of the harshest winter weather in years. At least four people have been reported killed, police said. Heavy snow, rain and rockfalls closed mountain roads in parts of the interior, including a border post with Lesotho, according to local news reports.

Forecasters said snow was reported in the southern Johannesburg township of Soweto and the posh northern suburb of Sandton, as well as the nearby towns of Carletonville and Westonaria.

Johannesburg last had snow on September 11, 1981.

"Sleet has been recorded occasionally since then, but never snow," added climatologist Tracey Gill.

Bloemfontein, the capital of the central Free State province, got its first snow in 12 years, receiving 13 centimetres (5.2 inches).

Comparable widespread snow across the country had been recorded only twice in the past 20 years, in 1981 and 1988, said Rae.

Some welcomed the colder weather, however.

At the Tiffindell ski resort in the southern Drakensberg mountains of the Eastern Cape province, guests were elated.

"They are very excited," said the resort's chief snow-maker, Johan Smuts. "It is not every day that you get to see snow fall in Africa."

In warmer weather, Smuts oversees the manufacture of snow for the resort through a process involving water and air compression.

Tiffindell usually gets about five snowfalls a year, he said, but rarely 25 centimetres in one day, as on Tuesday.

The weather service posted a warning on its website of very cold temperatures for the southeastern high elevations of the country into Thursday.

It expected snowfalls to continue over areas of the central Free State, the Drakensberg and the Eastern Cape, but to have passed by Friday.

In the northern provinces, the snow was expected to clear by Wednesday afternoon, said Rae.

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