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Govt’s control of rain radar service “a significant public safety issue”

On a day in which New Zealanders are being warned of tremendous thunder activity and the risk of tornadoes, the public are almost flying blind when it comes to monitoring the thunderstorm activity on the rain radar network.

MetService, which owns the rain radars, limits public access to just one image an hour – unless you want to pay a significant fee for it. 

New Zealand’s one free rain image an hour compares poorly with up to 20 updates an hour in places like Australia, Canada and the US – and access there is entirely free for the public.

“The technology available for free on the web in the US is amazing. Street level mapping, 1km resolution, storm tracking, warning overlays, and much more. If the government wants people to be able to take personal responsibility then you have to give them the tools to do that” wrote Steve Howard on’s Facebook page this afternoon.

While hourly satellite images are considered industry norm, hourly rain radar images are not.  “A severe thunderstorm can come and go without even being detected in an hourly update.  But with updates every 3 or 4 minutes the public can track particular rain bands and see if their property is at risk” says head weather analyst Philip Duncan.  “It is a significant tool used by the public all over the world for protecting life and property – except here in New Zealand”.

Mr Duncan says having hourly radar updates is like having hourly rugby commentary during an All Blacks test.  “Unless it’s constantly updated it’s basically useless”.

Currently displays the only free and live Lightning Tracker service available in New Zealand, which it has donated some money to.  

The Lightning Tracker at is run by weather enthusiasts across the country who have bought equipment at their own expense and has nothing to do with the Government forecaster.

MetService does not provide free access to their lightning tracker technology.

The NZ Government placed a heavy commercial emphasis on MetService in the early 90s when it was turned into a State Owned Enterprise. 

Subscribers of Sky TV can access rain radar images every 15 minutes.  This service used to be animated but was stopped about 10 years ago in favour of still images, which are worth less than animated ones.  It’s the animation of these radar images that makes them most useful for the public.

“This is a significant public safety issue that appears to be dictated by profits” says Mr Duncan.  “We have no issue at all with MetService making a profit and limiting some products to the public, but the rain radar network is the foundation of public safety when it comes to severe weather – and New Zealanders not only want full access to it, they need it”. has been overwhelmed by support from the public to fully free up this service.

Mr Duncan says New Zealand is the only nation in the western world to limit updates to one per hour and is calling on the Government to step up and fully fund this vital service. has asked the Minister of State Owned Enterprise, Tony Ryall, to address these concerns and we’ll bring you his answers as soon as we have them.


Have your say on this article – post a comment below!


Heather Paddon on 21/03/2015 7:58pm

why, for the last week or so can we not see the Rain Radar on our tv, it says radar imagerey not available

Peter of Dunedin on 5/10/2011 7:35am

As an Ex-Met. Man from the 60’s and 70’s I can only deplore the reduction in free public access to updated and relevant meteorological information and services. The blame lies squarely with successive governments from the time of the mid-1980’s who placed an emphasis on user pays rather than the free access previously provided. The NZ Met. Service has progressively been downgraded and reduced to a mere puppet of the “far right” economic neoconservatives. This is symptematic of what has happened in general to our NZ society. Important factors such as health and safety are reduced to “cost impacts” generally in the narrow parameters of $$$$$$$$$$$$. The term ” risk management” are peddled out as a means of reducing public fears, who are confused with such gobble-de-goop bits of terminology. The end effect is that when accidents do occur with even loss of life the bureaucrats responsible respond with ” no-one was to blame but we are now putting in place systems etc etc” The reduction of free access to important and relevant informaation is not a luxury, it is an imperative need. 

Guest on 4/10/2011 8:40am

Good on you Phil,

Back in the 70’s I can remember when forecasts from the MetService were provided free over the phone, marine forecasts for example which our father always obtained in the morning before we left for a days boating/fishing. Now along with snow reports etc its a pay service. Thank goodness we no longer have to rely solely on the MetService as our primary source of weather information. Public safety should come before profit.


Guest on 4/10/2011 5:17am

I think its more important to get rader coverage into areas that have no rader coverage eg Dunedin,West coast, before they worry about 15min updates.

JohnGaul on 3/10/2011 7:20am

Thunderstorm activity is not as severe here in NZ compared to other countries like the USA, but on the odd occasion there may be one?so we don’t really need more updates to what MetService provides at the moment, although I can’t wait for the Hokitika Radar to be set up.Innocent

There hasn’t been a violent thunderstorm in Christchurch for ages and judging by the lastest La Nina forecast, there won’t be any here for years.

So I’m happy with what they provide.




WW Forecast Team on 3/10/2011 7:35am

It’s more than just thunderstorms John (although you make a good point re: the severity of our thunderstorms) – but we also want the public to have access so they can monitor incoming lows (which La Nina produces more of – and more tropical cyclones).  During Cyclone Wilma it was shocking that people couldn’t see what was happening on radar while flood waters were rushing through some homes.  Yet the Chch radar was freed up because of the earthquake – which was odd.  Why free that for an earthquake but not for a tropical cyclone?  We may not have the severe thunderstorms of the US but we certainly have no shortage of severe rain events.   Aside from the public safety aspect there’s also the economic benefits for farmers and growers.


JohnGaul on 3/10/2011 8:26am

Yes. I thought, why free up the Rakaia Radar just because of the Canterbury Earthquakes.?

No significant weather events came up in the duration of the time since the free-up has been available, except for the 2 significant snowfalls?

I think it may be a commercial/safety reasoning why MetService have their policy of restricting the use of their radars, as they do cost the tax-payers a lot of money to provide.





Guest Dave on 3/10/2011 6:17am

Well said Weather Watch.

 Government funded services need to constantly monitor how they spend our money now. Financially the world has changed so much this past year that no one is very interested in what happened five years ago let alone ten.

We live in an age where we need to constantly change to maximise service or the customers (taxpayers) will start looking elsewhere.



KiwiAndrewO on 3/10/2011 5:06am

One hour updates are basically useless – but even then, way better than Sky’s pathetic ‘interactive’ offering.

In both cases an animated 15 minute period with an analogue clock would be a useful safety service.

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