Hundred-year-old records are tumbling as unrelenting heat sets New Zealand on course for its hottest February ever.
Most regions are between 2C and 3C hotter than normal as the strongest La Nina weather pattern in 30 years drives warm air and heavy humidity over the North Island.
“We are only halfway, so it could yet change. But for the first two weeks we’ve run at our hottest ever,” said climate scientist Georgina Griffiths, of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. “And February is usually our hottest month.
“Even if we got extremely cold for the rest of the month, it’s not going to be a normal February.”
While some regions have missed out – Otago has had only five dry days in the past 30 – most are basking. Some east coast regions, such as Gisborne, Wairoa and Hawkes Bay, are a staggering 3.9C warmer than their mean temperature for the month.
Auckland has consistently reached 27C, and with humidity exceeding 70 per cent, it has felt a few degrees higher than the thermometer reading.
Weatherwatch analyst Philip Duncan said: “Many people say the heat is worse here than Australia.
The highs don’t sound as dramatic, but as soon as you start walking, in 26 degrees and humidity, it is just exhausting.
“There’s no end in sight. We are having an Indian summer in the North Island this year.”
Forecasters expect the warm weather to continue, but not with the extreme highs of the last two weeks.
Piha lifeguard Tony Johnston said that after a quiet Christmas, hordes of people had visited west coast beaches in the past two weeks to cool off.
“It’s been super hot, perhaps muggier than usual. We’ve been rotating the water patrols more than usual so everyone can get a dip more often.”
Mr Johnston said that while resources had been stretched in the surf at times, most first-aid help had been given to people hurt on land. “Quite a few people have burned their feet on the black sand.”
MetService weather ambassador Bob McDavitt said the rest of February would be “warm, but not brilliantly warm. Summer peaked in early February, and temperatures have already begun falling.”
Mr McDavitt said the key contributor to the warm weather had been the lack of southerly winds. He said our warm air was sourced from Australia and the Pacific Islands, driven by La Nina’s northwesterly winds.
Three townships have registered all-time records this month.
The MetService weather station at Timaru Airport reached 40.3C on Waitangi Day when an Australian heatwave crossed the Tasman Sea.
But yesterday, Niwa revealed that its garden-based weather station in Timaru, which is more sheltered, reached 41.3C. That reading is by far the highest in the South Canterbury town’s 125 years of records, and only 1.1C shy of NZ’s hottest-ever day, in 1973 in Rangiora and Marlborough.
Also on Waitangi Day, the temperature in Te Puke hit 31.2C.
On February 2, Gisborne had its warmest day in 105 years of record-keeping when the mercury climbed to 36.3C.
Much of that heat was generated by a phenomenon known as the foehn effect, when the wind heats up dramatically as it drops down a slope, shedding its moisture. As it travelled eastward, between Taranaki and Gisborne, it dropped out of the mountain ranges of the central North Island and the temperature rocketed more than 15C.
The conditions observed in February are typical of a La Nina weather cycle, bringing warm and wet weather to the North Island and dry hot weather to the South Island. Meteorologists have indicated this is the strongest such cycle since 1973.
La Nina has also encouraged unwanted phenomenons. Its warm currents were responsible for bridge-breaking deluges after Christmas, and floods in Auckland.
Eight named tropical cyclones have occurred north of New Zealand, two of them in February. Weatherwatch has predicted that another large cyclone could form in the Coral Sea this weekend and bear down on New Zealand by the middle of next week.
La Nina is also blamed for a big increase in common household flies in Auckland and the proliferation of microscopic jellyfish along the region’s eastern beaches, which prompted health warnings after bitten swimmers reported unbearable itchiness.
– Homepage image / Foehn Mackenzie
on 18/02/2011 2:33am
You need to learn the definition of Indian Summer. There are several, but warm weather in February is not one of them.
on 18/02/2011 4:12am
Hi Douglas – the quote isn’t entirely accurate. It was said along the same lines of "we’re having a baby"… didn’t mean ti imply we’re having it right at this moment, but it’s something we’re going to have. Clearly we’re still in summer!
on 15/02/2011 11:08am
As usual Met Service and NIWA fail to spell out how it was for us. Banner headlines spouting on about record dry and hot temps over NZ give the impression that it applies to us down here as well. The weather down here has been very cloudy and cool(in the main). The one really hot day on Sunday the 6th Feb. when the temp. reached 35.1deg C was the one and only sunny day and it didn’t last a day!! It was hot up to 11.45am. A southerly change with cloud(and rain – some 50mm plus fell that night) dropped the temp. to the low 20’s after that before plunging later on that night.
I have had corresponded(e-mailed) with the Met. Office about it’s poor record when it comes to reporting as well as forecasting down this way.
The replys are usually pathetic – ie insufficient $$$ to do a proper job!! As an ex-met man from 35years ago I have stated that the doing away with observer personnel in places such as Dunedin and the lack of a decent weather radar system has produced a poorer quality forecast. I have also accused Met. Service and NIWA of ignoring us as we do not constitute significantly large enough population for them to worry about.ie “it doesn’t matter if they get it wrong down here compared to say Auckland ” – it’s all political you see.
on 15/02/2011 10:24pm
If you go to NIWA’s Climate Explorer you’ll find charts that accurately depict the month-to-date conditions/anomalies (select National and use the options on the right, like “rainfall month to date”):
You can’t lay this one on NIWA – the comment in the story was made (though a bit understated) that areas in the south had missed out. If you want Met. Service to do a better job, lobby for the government to put Met & NIWA back together (so that we become like the rest of the world again!!) and reverse the evil nonsense inflicted by neo-Friedmanites like Prebble, Doglas and Richardson.
on 16/02/2011 6:14am
Don’t worry mate(previous comentator) I’m doing my bit to turn it around > I call Bob McDavitt “Bozo the Clown” and I used to call Jim Salinger “Dozo the Clown” figure taht one out for yourself!! As I have previously stated , outer regions of NZ(outside Dawkland,Willington and Christwakechurch) simply don’t count. The politically incorrect bureaucrats have taken ove NZ and are in the process of shafting us!!!!!!!!!!!!
on 16/02/2011 6:09pm
I don’t see how JS is or ever was responsible for the Met-NIWA mess – he wasn’t in favour of the split….but as long as 2 organisations are required to turn a handy profit ahead of any other consideration, you have a problem. One thing the last government can be commended for – while not going nearly far enough – was restoring free public access to NIWA archive weather data (Online). From 1992 to mid-2007 it cost serious money to acquire any of this…
on 15/02/2011 9:04am
No wonder Auckland based relatives/friends are complaining endlessly about the heat/humidity.
on 15/02/2011 2:42am
According to NIWA’s Climate Explorer charts, 2/3 of the South Island is at +0.5C or less, with quite a large chunk actually a little below average. So the North Island zones shown as more than 2.0C above must be far ahead of average. But I can’t see this month matching Feb. 1998.