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Extensive 2020 Review: The top weather headlines and weather images

We take a look back at the biggest weather news headlines, images and our personal thoughts of 2020.

These stories were selected due to spikes in Google Analytics.

This year we’re proud to say we’ve hit 1.1 million users on our website and app. This is huge growth and we thank you all for your support!

As bush fires burned out of control across eastern Australia, another unprecedented plume of smoke crossed the Tasman Sea and over the upper North Island this time, where about half of NZ’s population lives.

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40 degree hit reaches the north eastern North Island with IBM confirming 40 degrees was reached in Te Karaka, just west inland from Gisborne. The area is often several degrees above Gisborne, especially when a nor’wester hits.

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Covid-19 hits and lockdown across New Zealand begins. The weather was incredibly settled for many places and WeatherWatch received a number of photos and emails from farmers around NZ who continued on working. It was this work that lead us to rebrand “Backing farmers and growers who feed New Zealanders”.

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Philip Duncan also wrote an opinion piece a few days earlier, on March 27, about how the nationwide lockdown brought “Country quiet into Auckland City”.

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APRIL 4 relaunches with new look and powerful Amazon Web Services backing, meaning the site can now handle immense web traffic and nicely display NZ’s most comprehensive weather data site.

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Please note – An app for RuralWeather has been built, we’re in the bug checking phase and we hope to launch in the first quarter of 2021!

Severe Category 5 Cyclone Harold makes two landfalls in Vanuatu.

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Auckland’s water shortage becomes more serious with water restrictions finally put in place. WeatherWatch argues Watercare/Auckland Council were far too late when warnings of a dry year were made the previous year specifically about Auckland. To this day the council still won’t proactively work with us despite communicating water conservation for 17 months now in Auckland. Mr Goff, if you’re reading, we’d love to help.

Here’s the story titled “Auckland Water Shortage was foreseeable + Tips to save water: Don’t make it a drama, make it normal life”.

Meanwhile, just days later, warned the rest of May would also be dry while some Niwa forecasters said rain would return.


While the North Island enjoyed a fairly mild winter the South Island had a ‘good ol’ fashioned’ winter with big frosts and some days barely climbing above freezing through some inland areas like Central Otago and the Mackenzie Basin.

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What do earthquake fault-lines and NZ’s weather have in common? An interesting story about how our mountains and ranges dramatically alter our weather on a daily basis.

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An incredible lenticular cloud seen over parts of Bay of Plenty due to a fading southerly.

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2pm temperatures draw a huge contrast between North Island and South Island.

The rare set up saw temperatures around -1C to -3C through Otago and Canterbury’s high country while at the precise same time it was nearing 20 degrees in the upper North Island.

The set up was caused by sub-tropical winds for northern NZ but light winds for the South Island under high pressure.

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Extra huge high pressure lies just east of NZ (and it’s been highs placed here for two years frequently which is leading to the drier than usual weather pattern in the upper North Island as we head into 2021).

At the time this high was forecast to get very close to 1050hPa (which is right up there!)


After 9 years as CEO of MetService, Peter Lennox quietly departs. It took a month before WeatherWatch heard the news – as not one single news outlet in NZ covered it beforehand. Can you imagine the CEO of another SOE, like TVNZ, leaving their job and having no media coverage??


Pilot Geoff Beckett says in 20 years of flying he has never seen a cloud like this. Neither had we in all our years of forecasting in New Zealand!


SEPT 28 – A major storm in the Southern Ocean with incredibly low air pressure, down to 933hPa, made for a burst of windy weather across New Zealand – in true spring style!

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La Nina officially arrives, but will it actually impact New Zealand, reads our headline four months ago. As of December 31 La Nina was still failing to bring any real impacts to the upper North Island.

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Otago Daily Times editorial says Southerners “owe a debt of gratitude” to both WeatherWatch and state forecaster MetService following the recent Antarctic Blast. (Related to that deep low just up the page on September 28).

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Following a burst of hot weather and highs to 30 degrees in some eastern spots, the cold came back. Frosty weather covered many inland parts of the South Island and some central North Island areas too.


NOV 21
Low Blow! A small but potent offshore storm brings damaging gusts to Dunedin and surrounds.


NOV 9/10
Napier has major deluge caused floods which damaged homes, cars and property. It was a significant but highly localised event. Niwa and MetService (the two official State run forecasters) had opposing numbers on rainfall for this day. Get used to this new normal – two sets of official weather records by the NZ Government unlike any other nation on earth.

The event, despite being very localised, hit a popular place – damage was significant and some problems do continue for locals impacted by these floods as we head into 2021.


NOV 26
WeatherWatch exclusively pushes back against NIWA and mainstream media for frequently talking of a “hot” summer on the cards. We talked about how stormy the Southern Ocean is and how this will likely impact the weather going into December.


NOV 27
Wellington becomes cloudy day after day, leading to many social media updates from Wellingtonians depressed with the setup and wanting the sun to return.

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December kicks off with a Southern Ocean storm which, along with other systems, fuelled two windy weeks of westerlies. The Southern Ocean is stormier this year and has been working to reduce the impacts of La Nina in the NZ area.


DEC 18
The biggest weather news story for in 2020 was Severe Cyclone Yasa which directly hit Fiji’s Vanua Levu.

The major storm was a worst case scenario for Fiji, but one positive was that the main island Viti Levu, along with Nadi and Suva, escaped a direct hit by the very centre of the storm.

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2020 – The Year in Review – By head forecaster Philip Duncan.

I’m sure many end of year reviews this year will start with “What a year!”. 2020 was unique, terrifying, depressing, scary – and oddly calm and fast moving and peaceful.

Like many of you, we started 2020 busy and with plans of a huge year ahead.

When March arrived we kicked off a huge relaunch of and shortly after. Both using Amazon Web Services it allowed both sites to be visually upgraded and for more data to be displayed – and far fewer issues with traffic crashing the site.

But the COVID-19 lockdown came soon after and we saw advertisers cancel as uncertainty set in. We truly wondered if we might end up as COVID-19 business casualty. However, as time went on, we put a lot more focus on what we do well – Rural Weather and Rainfall forecasting.

In September my beautiful Golden Retriever, Harry, had to go to sleep after just over 12 years as my best friend. He was there for me as my moral support during COVID and for many other stressful work and personal moments over the years. I couldn’t write an end of year review without mentioning him even though unrelated to weather. Mind you, ‘Happy’ Harry sat with me during every thunderstorm, every cyclone – and sometimes at my feet as I made my daily weather videos too. I miss him more than any words can express.

A month later, in late October, I also ended my 10 year position as Weather Presenter on CountryTV. This was a huge transition not only for me but for our small business. I’m really proud to have worked there with the small passionate team based on the North Shore of Auckland. Now I’m equally as proud to have WeatherWatch’s Aaron Wilkinson fronting the weather at CountryTV while I continue to work behind the scenes.

WeatherWatch is smaller than your local cafe – but we compete head on with both Niwa and MetService (two Government Agencies with 200 million a year in tax funding). The small team we have that work tirelessly to make a positive difference have carried us through this incredibly difficult year.

For those who don’t know our team, it comprises of myself (Philip Duncan) and Aaron Wilkinson on the forecasting side of things. Behind the scenes we have Justin and Fleur producing our daily weather videos – and Randolph and his team at TWR Media who support us so much (and know how to throw an awesome Christmas Party I might add!).

We have another Phil, who we call PK to avoid confusion. As our Tech Officers PK’s job is to upgrade our sites, make them and our app hum nicely and have few technical issues. Without PK our websites wouldn’t be as robust and modern — and he’s on call 24/7 which means our site has had few problems this year. Thank you Phil.

We have Shaun working on infrastructure – some huge ideas including lightning trackers (ordered already) and weather stations (trialling one now) and potentially rain radar too.

Tracey, our accountant and finance expert along with Andy, Vivian and Dave who provide support in the big moments and provide monthly guidance in tricky times.

We’re also very excited to be working closely with Global HQ and Farmers Weekly across 2021 in a new partnership. (think Rural Weather app…but don’t tell anyone we told you as it’s secret for now).


Finally, the Commerce Commission Investigation into MetService and Niwa continues, now approaching month 16. The investigation is into “Anticompetitive behaviour and “abuse of marketplace power”.

For a while we thought nothing was really happening, but in recent weeks there has been engagement. MetService in particular is showing positive signs of openness and a willingness for us to both try and work better together. I don’t know about you, but this is all I’ve ever wanted since the mid 2000s. We recently had coffee with MetService and we have positive talks lined up for late summer. We don’t really know where this will go but the mutual respect is increasing and making the process more positive.

NIWA, on the other hand, is going the other way. They are digging in their heels and utterly refusing to positively engage. In fact a recent Official Information Act request to them took 4 full weeks to get a reply from them with simply “No” as their response. When we replied to their email we immediately got an Out Of Office. We’re pleased the Commerce Commission is watching this – and we have plans to now go to the Ombudsman about NIWA’s highly unprofessional behaviour towards WeatherWatch and their bullying tactics.

It should be noted that in our last correspondence with NIWA we asked them what we could do better to work with them in a positive way. They refused to answer or engage. Not interested in working with the private weather sector. So hopefully you’re now seeing that NIWA are the ones driving this aggressive negativity – and not WeatherWatch.

2020 is a year just full of change – professionally and personally. While it’s a year I don’t want to think back on much, I also am grateful for what this tough year taught me. I’m more humbled, I’m more appreciative of life and family and work and pets. I want to make more of a positive difference in this small but important industry. The energy is still there despite the continual, harsh, knock backs.

Thank you to all of our supporters. Thank you to all of our clients. Thank you to the Government for making NZ the country the rest of the world wants to live in during these tough Covid times. Thank you to everyone who contributes to make WeatherWatch New Zealand’s largest private forecaster and also now New Zealand’s most accurate rain forecaster – as recently confirmed by the NZ Government itself independently! That’s a pretty positive note to end on.

So, here’s to a very uplifting, healthy and content 2021 – your support makes the world of difference to us. Thank you once more.

  • Philip Duncan.


Glyn on 2/01/2021 11:04am

So sorry, Phil, to hear of your loss of Harry. Our pets are so much a part of our families.

I have followed your site since your small beginnings and I, and now my extended family, always check “what Weather Watch says” before we play our sport or have an outdoor event!

Thanks for your huge commitment and for your very informative year’s review. I hope 2021 is a great year for you personally and also Weather Watch.

WW Forecast Team on 2/01/2021 5:30pm

Hi Glyn,
Thank you so much for your kind words. It really means a lot! Thank you also for the immense support – it’s word of mouth that helps us exist in such an often unfriendly environment. Wishing you and your family all the very best for 2021!
Kind regards
– Phil D

Lyn Bebb on 31/12/2020 8:53pm

Sooo sorry to hear about Harry. My heart aches for you. I love Weatherwatch!! May you go from strength to strength. I’ll be watching for positive news from NIWA. They should be ashamed of themselves. This is NOT the Kiwi way!

WW Forecast Team on 1/01/2021 6:50pm

Hi there Lyn,
Thank you so much for the kind words and for your support. We’re quite upset at the way NIWA is treating us as it appears we can do nothing right in their view due to their commercial nature – from a Crown Research Institute (100% owned by tax payers) it’s incredibly disheartening. But public support helps – like this message from you! So thank you.
Phil D

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