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BLOG: What a gut-wrenching start to 2011

I have a very unscientific way of calculating the number of natural disasters in the world at any given time – my workload.  My role at isn’t as straight forward as other weather forecasters – there is a heavy news element to it too.

There is a large grey area when it comes to what news stories suit our format.  Overseas most private weather forecasters, who have a news element, more often than not have a strong focus on other environmental news that isn’t always weather related.

For example the Gulf of Mexico oil spill last year, the volcanic eruption in Iceland and of course the Christchurch earthquake.

November and December of last year were quiet months news-wise for us.  We had a looming drought but, more importantly, a looming La Nina Summer which promised some big rain events over the coming months in our part of the world. 

As Christmas rolled in so too did the rain clouds both here and in Australia.  The stories started to filter in from Queensland between Christmas and New Year.

By the start of 2011 the Queensland flood story dominated the headlines as conditions went from bad to catastrophic.  Then the cyclones started.  Cyclone Yasi was the big one, the monster category 5 cyclone that, thankfully, made landfall in the sleepy seaside town of Innisfail instead of Cairns or Townsville on either side.  It was easy to evacuate such a small town and the death toll reflected that – not one person was directly killed by the cyclone.

But the Queensland floods preceding Yasi were far worse, dozens were killed as flash floods roared through the state. 

Over just a few weeks New Zealand had five named systems from the tropics with the most aggressive being Cyclone Wilma which cost 25 million dollars in damage to the upper North Island and was our first technical tropical cyclone to ever reach our shores.

Then February went quiet….the rain stopped.  The floods stopped.  The cyclones moved to western Australia where few people live.  The tranquility of summer started to take over again – as the South Island surged to 42 degrees and large highs gave us little wind and plenty of sun.

But then February 22nd arrived and an estimated 182 lives were taken in the normally peaceful city of Christchurch.  A city that was getting back on its feet after the massive 7.1 quake in September.  The earthquake stopped the whole country in its tracks.  It was utterly surreal.  As someone who has been to Christchurch every month since the quake in September I felt – as many of us did – very connected to the city and personally quite emotional. has a team of direct and indirect reporters.  Through our strong ties with The Radio Network and the New Zealand Herald we have reporters all around New Zealand who file stories or leads directly to us and keep us up to date as disasters unfold.   The Christchurch quake was quite unusual for us.  Richard Green and I especially love the news and admire the power of Mother Nature but we didn’t really know how to react to this one.  So we didn’t.  Apart from some breaking news stories we haven’t had a lot of coverage out of Christchurch this time around.  Many have thanked us for that – allowing to be an escape from the cruel reality but still being able to read environmental and weather news stories from New Zealand and abroad.

Last Friday night, after an emotional few weeks that many people across New Zealand and Japan have faced since that quake on February 22 it was hard to imagine anything that could be worse.  A reporter friend of mine had told me earlier on that day that she was pleased it was Friday night and she was glad to finally have a break from all the horrible news of late.  Then, of course, the Japan earthquake struck…and the tsunami…and the nuclear crisis.

Some people have commented on our Facebook page about why has focused on stories outside of the weather.  Well, there are two reasons.  One, the weather around New Zealand has been fairly quiet for the past month or so (although that’s now changing).  The past month has been a slow news month weather-wise with our focus being on when the next rain band will be and when the temperatures are going to change – but very little severe weather.  The second, and most important reason, is because our readers vote with their mouses.

It’s you who often dictates to us what you want to read.  On February 22nd you didn’t come to our site for the Christchurch earthquake coverage.  Our biggest story that day was Cyclone Atu which passed by to our east.  However last weekend it was the Tsunami coverage that lead our website – by far.  More people came to to get their tsunami/earthquake news than some mainstream news websites.

This website is evolving every week – we all appreciate the comments and feedback you give us (well, the constructive feedback!) so if you feel that we’re missing the mark let us know.

Personally I feel like we have a good balance of weather news and non-weather news, especially when conditions here in New Zealand are quiet.

Lastly, after 9/11 I remember hearing Larry Williams on NewstalkZB talk to US correspondent Steve Merczynski.  They were reminiscing of the “good ol’ days” when the news was about Bill Clinton’s sex scandal… when the main headlines weren’t all about death and fear.  This year I feel the same way… wouldn’t it be nice to focus on a few severe thunderstorms and some harmless storms – and not the death and destruction which is rapidly becoming iconic of 2011.  It’s quite overwhelming when you think about all the innocent lives lost this year.  My heart goes out – and breaks – to all those people in New Zealand, Japan and Australia who have lost loved ones this year.   It’s just simply not fair.

Philip Duncan, head weather analyst


Celtickiwi on 20/03/2011 1:21pm

Phillip, reading the last paragraph of your post I was reminded of a funeral for a local gentleman who passed away some years ago in my home town. I remember standing among the crowd of people at the cemetry, looking on at his wife and teenage children as the ceremony was carried out. Inevitably, a painful lump developed in my throat and the internal fight too hold back the tears and ‘be strong’ was lost. I stood there, trying to maintain as much composure as possible with a running nose, wet face and that – bloody aching throat, wondering how on earth those two kids were going to cope through life without their solid father figure . . . and what about his wife. All of a sudden she has to pick herself up and run a farm and family with no husband, friend and lover to share the load.
When the ceremonial part was finished and people mulled around in somber mood and hushed conversations, another local lady approached and we had a breif hug.

“Its not fair” I blurted out
“Right . . . now look around you, and then ask yourself how that has changed things” she replyed.

Derek on 18/03/2011 11:00pm

All the comments speak for themselves WW, you provide an excellent site with good news/weather mix way ahead of any others. If people want to know the latest like like in Japan last week, whether it be the effects of what happened or what caused it weatherwise, you had it.
End of story. Ww is the site to see.

Darren on 18/03/2011 9:23pm

I’ll answer your question by saying i prefere this site to the main stream sites funded by government. You’re comments tend to come from the heart and your perspective appears to be from some one who is truely passionate about what you are doing without the statutory responsablity to the government to do so. I know commercial pressures must be taken into consideration but if you can keep your customers, ‘us’, at the focal point of what you do then you wont fail.
Keep up the great work.

Anna on 18/03/2011 12:37pm

Thank you for your weather and news. It is always informative and educational and doesn’t need changing. We live in Townsville and went through Yasi. Arrived in Christchurch on annual holiday on February 22nd and experienced the earthquake.

Di on 18/03/2011 5:42am

Just continue what you’re doing. Never have I come across a more accurate / informative site as yours is. The content mix is so interesting & timely. Other weather sites really have no idea what “breaking news” is.

WW Fan on 18/03/2011 4:21am

I love WW, its a great sight how it keeps us very informed and up to date vigorously but…1 thing that I have found slightly annoying is the new format of the home page where the news updates are no longer in order when posted, I have found on the odd occasion I find a interesting story on fb WW then try and find the full story on the news page and its not there either. Please change it back =)

Sue on 18/03/2011 4:08am


You guys do a brilliant job, dont change a thing. Also this year to add we have had the Pakistan, Brazilian and Indonesian floods and the snow storms in the US and the UK. Lest we forget those that have died in these events.

Denise on 18/03/2011 3:49am

I’m one of those people who kept up with your facebook, twitter and website updates regarding the tragic events that unfolded in Japan this past week. Quite simply, you were the man on the spot working long hours who kept us all updated. You did an amazing job and for that I thank you.

Oh and you do great weather coverage too 🙂

Marise on 18/03/2011 3:39am

Please dont change what you are all doing, since finding your site I have abandoned Metservice, I enjoy the other stories that you find, good and bad, I check in to WW approx 4 times a day just to catch up with what is or isnt happening. A job well done I say…cheers to all

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