Friday, April 19, 2024

Patience is a virtue, even for El Niño

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A proper El Niño pattern has arrived, confounding the skeptics, says WeatherWatch’s Phil Duncan.
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By Phil Duncan, WeatherWatch

“All we need is just a little patience” – Guns N’ Roses from 1988. I’ve had this stuck in my head lately as I think back to the complaints last year about El Niño. 

Back then, in spring, before the weather pattern was showing up, the common theme was “So much for El Niño”. 

Many of these complaints were before summer had even started. Fair enough in some instances, as even in December the wet weather made people doubt long-range forecasts (and forecasters). 

I’m not a huge fan of any long-range forecasts beyond one month, not for our small country, but when you’re talking about something as big as a global event we need, well, just a little patience. It’s like trying to turn a big ship.

As a forecaster I’ve certainly noticed over the years that New Zealanders are especially impatient when it comes to the weather. If we see a news story about a cold snap arriving today many assume that’s nationwide, without really thinking cold air usually starts in the south and then has to move 1600km northwards to reach the top of the country. 

Likewise, if it’s moving from west to east, the West Coast gets it before it reaches East Cape and Gisborne, 1300km away over a number of big mountains. Usually the delay between daily weather arriving and many people expecting it can be more than 24 hours. We often get “that wasn’t very cold”, then 24 hours later it rolls in.

But when you need rain, patience wears thin – and that is understandable. One thing we try to do at WeatherWatch is go out of our way to explain what may break your expectations. “Fewer nasty surprises” is the theme of our new alerting app. 

The forecast for the rest of this month is a dry one. A proper El Niño pattern has arrived and this was something we tried to explain last year – that later summer and early autumn might be when our driest weather kicks in. This is due to a few reasons. 1) We’re in the peak of the hottest weather. 2) We usually have more high pressure and stability. 3) El Niño + autumn is like a hat on a hat. It adds a bit more “oomph” to the westerly flow and that doesn’t favour rain for eastern areas, inland areas, or northern areas.

With a dry outlook, the only silver lining will be isolated showers and thunderstorms – these have the best chance at “breaking the forecast”, but they are hit and miss. Your neighbour might get the 30mm while you remain bone dry. 

Expected rainfall covering the second half of February via the American GFS model.

We are most likely in the peak of the dry now – but be prepared for it to linger in March. El Niño is fading out by winter hopefully. 

Upcoming Highlights:

• This week kicks off with a brief cold front

• It may take a day or two to reach the north

• Some brief wet weather, mostly south of Central Plateau

• Hot high pressure and windier westerlies return late week 

In Focus Podcast: Full Show | Friday 16 February

Farmers are often told that they need to tell their story better in order to gain more value from the food and fibre they produce. But what should that story be and how should they tell it?

This week Bryan talks with David Downs who heads up NZ Story – an organisation funded by various government departments – which carries out market research in key markets. He has some insights into what the world thinks of us and how we can use that information to tailor a food story that might finally bring better returns to farmers.

Then, Bryan catches up with Chris Dillon from Federated Farmers in Southland. He‘s got a bone to pick with Fish and Game, which he says is blocking plans to remove gravel from rivers that would make them more resilient to flooding.

Senior reporter Richard Rennie also wraps up some of the stories he’s been working on this week.

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