What am I looking at?

Having spent much time in the Highveld (Alberton) and the Lowveld (Hoedspruit) of late,  the Cape of Good Hope weather around Somerset West was a bit of a biorhythm shock to the system. 

We are just approaching winter at this time, when we were driving down from Somerset West on a clear warmish winter sunny day toward the Strand on False Bay. 

I am amazed to see a low lying band of what pilots would call “smoke haze” lying over the Strand beach area. (smoke haze being a low lying industrial fog, also commonly referred to as pollution). Pollution however, is not something you would associate with a coastal town, so pollution it is not - hence intrigued with the phenomena, I convinced my associate for us to investigate further.

Driving into the Marine Layer (dense fog)

As we reached the Beach area of Strand we were suddenly in a dense fog. Car lights on in an erie ghostlike filmset, with the tops of tall buildings disappearing into an impenetrable haze, we could scarcely see the waves on the beach, not fifty metres from the road we were driving on, and the few folk on the beach definitely resembled ghosts as they shifted in and out of visibility - real spooky stuff!


the few folk on the beach definitely resembled ghosts as they shifted in and out of visibility

The fog all along the beachfront area

As we reached the Beach area of Strand we were suddenly enveloped in a dense fog,

No doubt this might be normal for folk from overseas countries, but for us it was really weird, as just a kilometre up off the beach it was still a cloudless clear sunny day!

False bay is surrounded by the Hottentots Holland mountain range, an impressive array of very steep cliffs that, form the eastern part. I wanted to view this scene from above, a helicopter view of the surroundings, to better understand the extent of this irrational juxtaposition of sun and mist contrast, but without a plane, the mountains seemed the only option.

I remembered the Steenbras pass, winding up to the virtual top of the cliffs, where the water purification plant is situated and suggested we go up there to get the view I was looking for.

My associate went quiet at the suggestion “you want to go up a mountain pass - we cant even see the road down here; are you nuts”? 

I assured her that upon our approach to the Strand as we drove into fog, the high lying areas seemed clear, but if not, for sure, I too would not venture into the pass. With that assurance, we proceeded toward Steenbras pass. Sure enough, as we approached the steep cliffs, small holes appeared in the dense fog along the mountain edge, through which the iridescent lustrous clear blue sky shone through.

At the ascent of the pass however, visibility was still very poor, but with the assurance of a clear sky above, we ventured up. I felt like I was piloting my Piper again, swirling mist about the windows, sitting in a steep climb, to rise above the clouds. In minutes we were clear above the cloud base. We visited here before. On a clear day you can see forever from up here! Today instead, we gazed down over a sea of cloud. With the higher ground in Somerset West being clearly visible far off in the distance, but with us just above this cloud base on the mountain, it felt like we were in seventh heaven, looking down upon the earth below. 

View on a clear day


Compared to the stark contrast on a clear day

On a clear day you can see forever

The exhilaration of our victory, getting to the viewpoint of such an unusual experience and understanding, was in itself exciting, but the vista was stupendous, especially in the light of what we knew was actually below, the sparkling waters of False Bay.

In such awesome wonder, we sojourned a while, long enough to enjoy some sandwiches we had with us, and taking memorable pictures, some of which we thought to share with you.

Suddenly, as we walked about on the edge of the cliff, the scenery started changing! From the west, the sun was rapidly burning off the haze. Within forty five minutes, patches of the sparking Atlantic ocean below was visible once more, with the sun dancing off the water, with the sparkling reflections looking like shimmering stars in a night sky. Enthralled by the awesome beauty of God’s creation, we sat in silence, in deep contemplation. A sense of inner peace enveloped us both. What a marvellous experience of a sporadic occurrence. Just had to share it!

Phenomenon explanation

For those geeks like me, here is the explanation of this phenomenon known as "ocean mist” or “marine layer".

At this time of winter approaching, colder water temperatures will result in a cool and moist layer of air to form close to the surface of the ocean. 

With colder air near the surface and warmer air above it, it creates a stable environment. With the clear sunny warmish winter day the cool moist air becomes trapped near the surface and cannot mix with the warmer air above. Being so moist, and being cooled below the due point, by the low ocean temperature, a deck of low clouds form along the coastline that tends to move inland. 

Where this base of cloud meets the ground is where a thick dense layer of fog, cloud and heavy mist occurs in patches.


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