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A gradual end to the drought for some, but others may get worse?

No forecaster can be absolutely sure of when the droughts across New Zealand will end… but time is running out for them to last much longer as we head into what is traditionally the wettest time of the year.

With temperatures still hitting the mid-20s time hasn’t run out for last minute rain to see decent grass growth across parched farms.

The problem with a drought running in to winter is that often the rain arrives but the temperatures have fallen – colder weather means little grass growth and without much grass it doesn’t take long for farmers to run out of grass – replaced by mud – and having to buy expensive feed or use up their own stocks much earlier than usual.

However temperatures remain high from the driest southern regions to the driest northern ones – between the low and mid 20s most days.

The nations highs this week have all been around the 24 and 25 mark from Alexandra to inland Canterbury to Hawkes Bay.  Most other regions currently facing the big dry have had highs in the 20 to 23 degree mark and recent shower activity has seen a touch of green return.

Some call it a green drought, when a little bit of rain has fallen and the lawn changes from brown to green.  There’s no moisture more than a couple centimeters into the soil but the top is a little damper.

That’s certainly the case in Auckland and western parts of Waikato and Northland… showery weather over the past couple of weeks hasn’t produced much in the old rain gauge but has been enough to see grasses change a little colour.

The forecast of more showers on Friday night or Saturday morning and more showers, or possibly even rain, next week backs up a feeling I have – that the droughts in the north and west will gradually ease.

I’ve had some unconfirmed reports that some very small pockets of land in Northland have seen some healthy shower activity lately, easing drought conditions.  I stress that it is very localised by some parts have had solid showers. 

But the showers haven’t been enough to close up the monster cracks that have formed in the soil – watch this place in winter Aucklanders, this could spell trouble for some water front or hill top properties if we go into a wet winter too quickly.

I’m trying to give farmers, and those who rely on rain water, a little hope.  During times like this it’s a fine balance to ensure forecasters don’t give out false hope, but at the same time we don’t need to repeat over and over just how terrible it is.  I hope that I, and WeatherWatch, have kept that balance even.  We try to analyse the weather maps and data as best as possible, and rely on the accurate meteorologists behind the scenes to give us reliable rainfall predictions.

At this stage, rainfall confidence in Northland and Auckland remains low, about a 10% chance over the next few days with a 30% to 40% chance on Monday or Tuesday (at the time I wrote this blog on Thursday evening).

But the “limp” showers that have been dotted along the eastern Tasman Sea aren’t enough to reach over into eastern areas.  This means while some western areas may see a slight easing in dry conditions over the next few weeks, the eastern areas may see the complete opposite unless a big low moves east of the country.

The last thing the drought regions in the east needs is a strong southerly blasting up the coast. 

The solution for all the dry areas will be in a low coming from the Tasman Sea or the sub-tropics.  Something that is slow moving but not too severe.  Something that starts off with light rain or drizzle and turns into 48 hours of solid but not heavy rain.

This needs to be then followed by some warm northerlies and then another couple of days of rain.  This will end the drought and hopefully break the pattern we’ve been stuck in for a while now.

So as we head into Anzac Weekend we’re likely to see warm conditions across the country under a nor west flow. 

For those in northern New Zealand it doesn’t even feel like heater or fire weather yet…but we’re only 8 weeks away from the shortest day of the year.

Fingers crossed the gentle shift into wetter, weather remains warm and evenly spread.  The last thing we need is going from droughts to floods.

– By Philip Duncan


Sarah B on 22/04/2010 12:25am

Thanks for using the photo of my horse Dazzle in his rather dried up looking field. Since writing to you Ive moved him to another local yard where there is still plenty of grass. The dry weather affected the grass and he got mycotoxicosis… so bad that he had an uncontrollable head twitch, swollen glands and attacks of ataxia… falling over when he was at all stressed….he injured himself pretty badly when he fell onto a fence and the rail went into his chest. Hopefully now hes on good grazing he wont be ingesting so many toxins and maybe I will be able to ride him again soon…. he certainly looked a lot better as he was hooning around in his new huge field with 7 new friends yesterday… so sign of staggers or the head twitch…fingers crossed.

David New Brighton on 21/04/2010 11:03pm

I have made a comment elsewhere about my feelings for a change in the weather, but, unfortunately for most, (of course, I don’t include the skiing fraternity here, who will be loving this, if it turns up trumps!) it will come from the south, and right off that polar ice cap!

And, the date I am looking at, is around the 9th May, give or take a few, ’cause we are still nearly three weeks out from that projected time slot ….. that is still enough time for a bit of last minute grass growth, and might be enough to drag the farming community through, what is predicted, by some,to be a cold winter.

But, in the meantime we need some decent Rain!

How many recall the Big Dry of ’83, when farmers and others were crying out for rain, from the East Coast of the North Island, as well as Northand, Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Canterbury?

The situation was desperate, with no sign of any help, right up to April of that year… the then, Ministry of Agriculture anf Fisheries, estimated up to that time, for the Gisborne/East Cape region, the total losses were between $600 million and $700 million of export receipts.

Farmers were ringing their hands in desperation and grief grief, families were under pressure, stressed out, and a few people were even performing ‘rain dances,’ including the ‘Wizard’ in Christchurch, if I recall correctly!

Some were even praying, but not many I think, although one local Protestant in Gisborne, Matawhero, actually, was organizing prayer meetings, but he was sceptical, and not at all confident about whether God would hear them and answer prayers of a bunch of farmers who had neglected Him for decades!

However down the road, a group of Catholics, in Gisborne had organized a Rosary campaign, which they commenced back in early March of that year, 1983.

Six people showed up!

They prayed the Rosary every day for the drought to break.

Six weeks later, almost to the day, around 70 mm of rain fell over the next few days.

The rather amazing thing is while the media described it as “a few centimetres ( ’cause that doesn’t seem much to the ordinary bloke ) of rain fell in Gisborne early in April, they seemed like the answer to a prayer.”

The system which produced the ‘God – given rain’, was the result of an innocuous weak cold front migrating up from the South Island and crossing over the North Island from a southwest direction.

Now, this is a direction that is expected to produce little if any rain for the Gisborne region, but it produced nearly 3 inches of rain, in those first few days.

In any man’s language that is a real drought breaker! And, so it was!

John Collett on 22/04/2010 1:26am

ringing their hands? Surely not.

David New Brighton on 22/04/2010 3:54am

…yes, cos’ they were saying ” hell’s bells, when’s it gonna’ rain?

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