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Column: Time’s running short for any real summer

Have we been cheated out of a summer? It’s certainly looking that way.

A year ago Timaru took the national high with a 41.3C peak at the start of February. This weekend they had 18C while Dunedin had only 14 on Sunday.

Last year the North Island’s eastern areas were climbing to the mid 30s … but this week reaching the low 20s has been an achievement.

New Zealand has been swamped in cloud this summer and that has helped lower our temperatures, but so too have the highs, which have been bigger than usual and have been coming in from south of Australia. This angle of attack means the wind flow before the highs move in is often southeasterly.

This time last year we had more westerlies and northerlies. What’s the difference? Well, the westerlies last year came off the Australian desert. Our air masses this year are coming in from over the ocean – and we’re not talking tropical oceans from the north, we’re talking the Southern Ocean and western Pacific, neither well-known for being especially warm.

Add to that the highs which have blocked the tropical storms, so we haven’t had the extra hot, humid air masses we saw last summer.

But the coolness in the air doesn’t mean autumn is arriving already. It’s simply bad luck. I said last week that if you imagine the seasons as speed zones, then summer is a 100km/h zone and autumn is a 70km/h … but we’ve been driving at 70 all summer so the change to the autumn speed zone will have little impact.

And just to get an idea as to how cool some of our days and nights have been, a poll run at this week asked readers if they had used home heating this summer, be it fires, heatpumps or heaters. Forty per cent have said “yes” so far.

“Heatpumps have been on heat instead of cooling,” said Denis Wadworth of New Plymouth.

Nicola Nicholson of Auckland told us: “Had to turn my baby’s heater on in the wee hours this morning, it was freezing! Even had to turn our HRV off at night as it’s too breezy!”

As for the rest of February: I think we’ll see a slight improvement, but the days are quickly running out for the really hot stuff.

– Homepage image / Mike Condon

– Philip Duncan writes a weekly column for the Herald on Sunday.  To send feedback to the Herald on Sunday please email


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