Expat Life, South Africa, Weather

The Clowns are Fighting

I have a distinct childhood memory of standing by the back door in my parents’ 1970’s avocado and cream wallpapered kitchen during a storm, my eyes raking the sky expectantly for giant clowns.  “The clouds are fighting” is what mum had actually said to explain away the roaring thunder.

Sadly, it turns out that I am not faster than lightning when it comes to taking pictures of it, this is the very best of the probably 100’s I’ve taken.

We’re at the very tail end of summer here in Johannesburg, which means the regular electrical storms have all but finished for the season.   When thunder crashes and lightning bolts rain from the sky, it often appears that the clowns are not just fighting, but that an entire circus troupe is waging all out war up there.

Mr Incredible was far far away in South America during what was probably the most biblical thunderstorm we’ve had.  It was of the house, bone, bed and nerve rattling variety.  Pickle slept through the entire thing taking up three quarters of the bed while Sweetpea was glued to me on the remaining sliver.  Then the bedroom door creaked open.  My blood ran cold and I fumbled for my phone wondering feebly whether I could battle an intruder with the paperbacks on my bedside table.  After a heart-stopping pause, The Cheese Thief slunk into the room.  She crawled under the bed and stayed the rest of the night.

Johannesburg is one of the unofficial lightning capitals of the world so statistically; the odds of being struck by lighting are raised.  It’s not something I’d not thought too much about until a local schoolgirl was struck last year.  She’d been holding an umbrella and required physiotherapy to release her arm from its frozen brolly-holding position. It seems she got off quite lightly, being struck by lightning can be lethal.  Here are ten top tips to avoid being a casualty of circus warfare (i.e. a massive electrical storm).

  1. DON’T run for the trees

Counter intuitively, you shouldn’t take shelter under a tree, but rather out in the open.  Crouch down making yourself as small as possible with only your feet touching the ground.

  1. Avoid water

No swimming, no showering, no messing about on the water.  I was handing some pool chemicals over to our gardener (water pipe fixer, snake and spider evictor) during the opening rumbles and flashes of a storm.  As we were talking I was backing further away from the pool.  “Lightning doesn’t worry me”, he laughted, “I used to be a goat herder.”  Make of that what you will.

  1. “When thunder roars, go indoors”

Unless you are a goat herder or former goat herder, you will, where possible, hopefully be prepared to seek immediate indoor shelter.

  1. Unplug valuable appliances

If lightning strikes your home it will hurtle through the pipes and cables heading to the ground.  One friend has to date lost 2 routers, an external hard drive, telephones and a TV to lightning.

  1. Make sure your valuable appliances are insured

…just in case you forget to unplug them….

  1. DON’T live in a house with a corrugated iron roof.

Case in point is a lady I met with a history of fried televisions.  Her one story metal-roofed-home has been struck pretty much annually incapacitating a TV each time.  The surrounding two story homes with tiled roofs remain unscathed.

  1. DON’T live in a house with a thatched roof either.

Although photogenic, thatched houses are flammable when struck by lighting,

  1. Get a lightning rod

If you have a corrugated roof, a thatched roof or live in a house that appears to be consistently susceptible to lightning strikes, it might be time to pop one of these on your roof.

  1. DON’T P*ss off a Witch

Local superstitions suggest that lightning is the plaything of witches and witchdoctors who use it to kill and destroy their enemies at will.   (No jokes about my mum and her freakishly timed thunderclap moment thank you).

  1. Don’t Believe in witchcraft

If you believe in the witchery of lightning, then you probably won’t follow any of the other tips above meant to protect yourself and your property.  I read (on the internet, so I don’t know if it’s true, but it makes for a good story) that in response to witch burning in 1970’s South Africa, Drum Magazine attempted to help dispel a general belief in witchcraft and sorcery.  They offered a substantial monetary reward to whichever witch could strike dead writer Stanley Motjuwadi with lightning.  “So, you phoney witches, start bubbling your cauldrons.  We dare you to take up this challenge.”  As Mr Motjuwadi survived the challenge a logical conclusion is that witches don’t exist.

So, now that you know how to avoid a lightning strike, all you need to do is watch out for those giant clowns particularly as the children now giggle that rather than fighting, the clowns are farting!  My fault entirely, I made up a very silly off the cuff story about the clowns fighting, a giant bird, The Cheese Thief and some sausages on an adventure up in the sky.  At some point I inadvisably threw in a farting sound to diffuse their storm jitters.

The Clouds are Fighting. The Clowns are Farting.

To see some utterly brilliant lightning photos from Johannesburg, click here.  Photographer Alexius van der Westhuizen’s pictures are stunning.

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