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Meet the farmer that outsmarted the forecasters, thanks to a cabbage tree

Across 2015 (and the year before) there was great talk about the ‘severe’ El Nino coming in this past summer.  Droughts in New Zealand as bad as the 1990s said some reports. American forecasters got even more dramatic calling it a “Godzilla” El Nino – whatever that’s supposed to be.  

In Spring last year we were asked by CountryTV viewers how we thought summer would shape up – and what El Nino might mean for NZ. Our response was pretty standard – that you can’t make long term forecasts for a nation that is mostly comprised of two small islands in the roaring 40s – ie, anything can happen. In saying that, we did say that if El Nino did eventually set in that Waikato could become drier than average as the El Nino pattern does tend to favour a lot of dry WSW winds in the area.

Which takes us back to October last year when WeatherWatch received an email from a dairy farmer in eastern Waikato, Carol Marston, who watches Philip Duncan on CountryTV. Here’s what she wrote – and here was her prediction, which at the time went against WeatherWatch, NIWA and MetService. 

“Turnips went in here on Oct 27th and we had a nice 7mls Saturday evening to get them germinated. Even for us, the ground has dried up pretty quickly, having not had our usual rain over October, and those westerly winds” wrote Carol.

“I  have been dairy farming for 19 years with my husband. I have been told that if the cabbage trees flower by Oct 1st, it is going to be a very dry summer. Well this year they didn’t flower here until 20th Oct… this usually means we (in the foothills of the Kaimai Ranges) are going to have a “normal†summer with periods of rain, and up to 3/4 weeks without rain, throughout Jan/Feb/March”

“We usually base our weather on what Tauranga gets as we don’t seem to follow the Waikato patterns as much. When there is a north/north easterly flow, the rain gets pushed up the kaimai range and that usually means we can get some precipitation.  This rain usually doesn’t get as far as the other side of the Waihou river, so people at Manawaru or Waihou remain dry”.

That was back in October, when dry conditions were setting in – so what about now that summer is over?  Carol emailed us this week to update us…

“Looks like the Cabbage tree theory has been right again!  Not much of an El Nino except in some isolated places and mainly in the south. We have really had good rain (20-40ml) along the kaimai’s about every 10-14days since november, and at some other times (New Year) around the 100 mls over 2-3 days.  Your weather predictions have pretty much been on target as far as we are concerned. We are still pretty green with as much clover this summer as we have ever had on this farm in the 15 years we have been here. However this lush pasture is still fairly limited to along the ranges as even as far out as Manawaru/Waihou/ Ngarua, they have been quite dry for a while now. However i understand that most people even as far out as Hamilton got around 80mls this last 2 days. Some good news to counter the falling payout!”.


Image from Monday shows Carol’s farm wet, green and lush on the last day of Summer 2016 / Carol Marston





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