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Posts in category: New Zealand Weather

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The Big Chill

Posted by Iain on June 26, 2015, 1:48 p.m. in New Zealand Weather

Having spent last week in Cape Town complaining about the cold I came home to what was for three days this week a mini Ice Age by comparison.

Average maximum daily temperatures in Auckland through June and July tend to be around 16-17 degrees Celcius which is cool but by no means cold because with our humidity it generally feels a degree or three warmer. At this time of year we can have a lot of cloud cover which does act as a bit of a blanket and keeps us more snug than the temperatures might suggest. This week however someone ripped the duvet off and left the freezer door open.  Air that seems to have come straight off the Ross Shelf in Antarctica settled over the country for a few days and left us shivering under a great big icy blob of frigid air.

With clear sunny days and cloudless nights and this large fat anti-cyclone sitting over us there was nothing to keep the warmth in and temperatures plummeted. Earlier this week Auckland got down to minus 2 degrees overnight and maximum temperatures were  between 11 and 13 degrees for the first three days..

That was positively tropical by comparison to what was happening in the deep south of the country where in Central Otago (and up in the mountains to give this some perspective) temperatures fell as low as negative 21 degrees. Apparently we have only had temperatures that low four times in the recorded history of the country. Two of these record lows happened this week.

Would someone please send an email to Al Gore – there is no way there are any melting ice caps in this part of the world this week.  Show me the warming! I’ll take a triple dose thanks!

I have to say though that while the nights are chilly the days have been amazing. We have a certain type of light in this country and when combined with our clear air and the sunny days these weather patterns bring, the country has been stunningly beautiful from top to frigid bottom. Narnia-esque in so many parts.

Although we get no snow up this end of the country the South Island has more or less been blanketed producing the most incredible images. With everything covered in snow and ice there are it seems only two colours – bright blue skies and the countryside covered in the purest snow and ice. Water has frozen as it has settled and dripped off leaves and fences and the frosts that cannot melt are being added to the next night creating a landscape dominated by crystals.

Lovely if you are a tourist I imagine, less so if you are a farmer trying to dig your hypothermic sheep out of a snow drift.

The ski field operators are all doing cartwheels given the snow is now deep and soft  and ready for the school holidays as hordes will no doubt descend upon this winter wonderland.

This really is a country of incredible climatic variation and just as the heaters are on full at home this week I quickly forget that during summer we need air-conditioning in the same house cranked up to the max to prevent house from feeling like a Turkish bath. And we complain of the humidity and heat in summer as much as we moan about the current cold.

It’s funny we forget that we live in the sub tropics which might mean nice warm summers but it also means cool winters with occasional extremes around the edges.

I have to say it all makes for thoroughly interesting micro-climates though.

The temperatures are now returning to normal for this time of year with a chilly but not freezing 16 degrees in Auckland.

Last week while in Cape Town the ‘cape of storms’ delivered and I had heavy iron ‘loungers’ being blown around the deck outside my hotel room for two days as if they were made of balsawood. Low cloud, huge winds, cold temperatures were quickly replaced with what we have had here the past few days – stunning blue skies and bitingly low temperatures. While for many people who have more settled and predictable climates this can all take some getting used to but I have to say a return to Cape Town is for me like a return to Auckland – you never quite know what the day will serve up in terms of weather at any given time of year (or in Auckland’s case in any given hour on any given day…..).

Some love it, some hate it but for me it is never anything other than interesting.


Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Cyclone Pam Leaves Her Calling Card

Posted by Iain on March 20, 2015, 8:25 p.m. in New Zealand Weather

With many parts of New Zealand suffering from their annual drought the prayers and rain dances have been in full swing these past few weeks. 

It seems one rain dance too many as Cyclone Pam, having smashed her way across Vanuatu, set about sprinting across 3000km of South Pacific ocean in a little over 24 hours to attempt the same destruction on New Zealand.

Luckily, she only brushed the north and east of the country as the main body of the biggest storm in memory skidded offshore down the coast.

Tropical Cyclones (hurricanes) usually begin to lose their awesome power as they hit the cooler waters around New Zealand (at this time of the year the sea in these parts is 23-24 degrees Celsius) but this baby was big and strong enough to retain much of its power built up as it headed south.

North of Auckland and all the way down the east coast past Coromandel, Tauranga and the Wairarapa swells of between 5 and 8 metres were smashing the coast. These are all ‘surf’ beaches popular with swimmers and board riders but no one ventured out into the massive waves thrown up by this storm. To do so would have been suicidal.

In some hil country areas up to 100mm of rain was received in 24 hours. This, for places like the Hawkes Bay, represents about on sixth of their average rainfall.

With the ground hard and parched such volumes of rain can be more destructive than helpful. While they can fill up reservoirs and dams, much of it simply runs off the hard fields and pastures into rivers which then floods, causing major damage downstream.

Thankfully, the system was far enough out to see that the worst of its potential was not unleashed and the damage relatively light.

Auckland escaped largely unscathed through being sheltered form the hurricane force winds. In fact, I have been told it was more than a bit of an anti-climax for most Auckland’s.

Drought is such a part of our long hot summers but it still amazes me how many South African clients in particular, who (it has to be said), have a stilted perception of our climate and have sent me emails marvelling at the weather through the Cricket World Cup as if it is unusual for it not to rain for weeks on end. In summer, it isn’t.

Because New Zealand is 1600km long and thin, mountainous in the south and hilly in the north, lying in the sub-tropics and in the souther temperate regions we're surrounded by warm water in the north and cooler water in the south. This means our climates are as varied as countries with ten times the land mass. No set wet or dry seasons and you will find you can get rain at any time of the year although generally more in the winter.

In Auckland we get 1000mm a year (about the same as Durban and Johannesburg). We have one third of the rainfall of Singapore of Kuala Lumpur. Seven percent generally falls between May and September.

Of our five largest cities, Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin those last two are actually the driest despite lying (or perhaps because of) over 1000km further south. They come in at 850mm and 650mm each year, far drier than all of the major cities of South Africa.

In terms of sunshine hours, Christchurch generally tops the list. The further north you go, the more humid things generally become and therefore the more cloudy. For the record, the two sunniest cities in New Zealand  are actually Benison (top of the South Island) and Whakatane (south east of Tauranga)

We are now sliding gently into Autumn which is slowly creeping its way up from the south. It takes around 6 weeks from now for autumn to reach us up in Auckland. Having enjoyed three months of summer temperatures in the mid to high twenties and weeks of blue skies, the nights are set to cool down and the temperature each month will fall by a degree or two till it hits winter minimums in July and August. Even then it is not really cold (it doesn’t snow, for example) and the difference between an Auckland summer and winter is a jacket and an umbrella on standby. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as a goldilocks climate but it does seem to have just about everything in reasonable proportions.

During the South Pacific hurricane season, which is now drawing to a close, mother nature does unleash from time to time a little reminder that ‘averages’ are a statistical measure and while the past twelve months in New Zealand have been entirely average in terms of sunshine hours and rainfall, when measured in weeks and with her occasional ‘big weather’ surprises such as she delivered this week, things can appear very different when you sit staring outside your window at torrential rain and trees bent double with 150km an hour winds.


Until next week.

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


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