Monday, February 26, 2024

An exhausting year of weather comes to a close

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Months of relentless weather events have left even Phil Duncan a bit twitchy every time it rains hard.
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By Phil Duncan, WeatherWatch

What an exhausting year of weather! Low pressure dominated the first half of 2023, swamping New Zealand in sub-tropical rain, ex-tropical cyclones, squash zones, atmospheric rivers …  like the ’80s band it was wet, wet, wet. 

This year brought out something I’ve never really seen in my weather career – an extraordinary amount of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD develops in some people who have experienced a dangerous, scary or traumatic event. 

The Auckland Anniversary floods of January 27 were not long after Cyclone Hale, which had hit Northland, Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula, Waikato and Great Barrier Island. Then it was Cyclone Gabrielle – the monster storm of the century that turned out to be bigger than anything we’d seen in longer than just the past 23 years. 

The deadly cyclone left a trail of physical and emotional devastation. These events were made worse by more rain events, bringing more slips and flooding time and time again.

Most hit were Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne, being walloped by rain event after rain event, even as El Niño kicked in during spring (which should’ve brought a double whammy of dry but instead took until December – the final month of the year – to finally show some signs of shaking the wet pattern). 

PTSD can make you feel afraid during and then well after a traumatic situation. That fear is part of our body’s “fight or flight” response, which helps us avoid, or respond to, potential danger. But what do you “fight” and where do you take “flight” to when widespread rain keeps hammering your home or region? 

A combination of frequent and repetitive dramatic headlines from mainstream news outlets and repetitive pockets of severe weather that kept popping back up like some nightmarish Whack-A-Mole has lead to some people now overreacting to any heavy downpour. 

Even I’ve felt it. As a weather forecaster I have a love for severe weather (like a parent with children, forecasters are expected to love all types of weather!) but even I was being triggered by those intense downpours, wondering “Will this actually stop? Or will this be another January 27 where an unexpected downpour lasted several hours and caused deadly flash floods?”  

I’ve never had that thought process before because I know that weather isn’t vindictive and often each week, even if repetitive, it is rarely actually a carbon copy – it’s always unique. But this year we saw many repeat events.  

At the time of writing this final column of 2023 I’m looking at a rain map for the rest of December that looks more typical of El Niño (but still too wet over the Tasman Sea). Dry around the North Island, dry north of New Zealand and wet on the West Coast. 

Whatever the forecast is for you, I hope 2024 is kind(er). Despite the rough year of weather, I still firmly believe NZ sits smack bang in the Goldilocks belt of global weather – you’d be hard pressed to find another place on Earth with such a healthy general weather pattern. Here’s to 2024! 


El Niño Watch: 10-weeks later, how’s El Niño tracking?

In this last El Niño Watch podcast for 2023, Phil and Suz reflect on the 10-weeks of a broken El Niño and look ahead to the rest of December as longer dry periods, westerly winds and higher temperatures are on the cards.

Karen Williams from FMG also joins the team again to talk about preparing for wildfires on farm and at the bach/cribs, and doubles down on the importance of the Stop & Pop campaign.

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