Monty's Year at Gobabeb Training and Research Centre, Namibia

THE KUISEB FLOODS!

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Only one day after an unexpected dust storm rolled through (see below), we were surprised again when the Kuiseb River came flooding past the station for the first time in almost two years!  Although we haven’t received measurable rainfall since November, massive cumulonimbus thunderheads have floated over the far eastern horizon for the past week – directly above the watershed of the ephemeral Kuiseb.

At around 10:300 pm, just after lying down for the night, Nathan rapped loudly on my bedroom door: “The river!  The river!!!”

The word had traveled just in time from one of the Topnaar settlements upstream; the flood was coming down, and fast.  I quickly got my things together and ran down into the (still dry) riverbed to meet the other Gobabebians that had already congregated there.  Where was it?  We eagerly began hiking upstream to meet the flow.

It seemed impossible that anything unusual was about to happen.  Above, a brilliant star-scape floated above the darkened silhouettes of dunes and tree tops.  All around, the riverbed’s typically sporadic night sounds and the rustling of leaves were barely audible.  In a way that has become familiar over the past six months, the soft sand and silt filtered through the cracks between my toes.

Suddenly, a low rushing sound was carried to us from the darkness ahead of us.  A gust of wind through the trees?  As the sound became louder it  grew undeniable: the river!  Moments later, still out of reach of our flashlight beams, a powerful and earthy smell overpowered our desert accustomed nostrils.  Then, traveling at a full meter/second, the leading edge rolled into us.  Within a matter of seconds the initial wave of sludge and detritus evolved into a rapidly deepening flood.  A minute more, and one had to remain vigilant just to stay standing.

2 and a half days later, the water is still flowing, although it’s height has gone down significantly.  Another pulse could happen at any time as rain clouds continue brooding in the East.

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