Weather extremes in Hawke's Bay

By DOUG LAING


Hawke's Bay last night appeared to have escaped the wrath of a storm that swept across areas further north after a day of tragedy and destruction in Auckland and Rotorua.

The most severe impact in the Wairoa area appeared to be isolated rural power cuts, for within half an hour of lightning, thunder and heavy rain it was all over and disappearing out to sea off the Hawke's Bay coast.

Accompanied by a "severe thunderstorm warning" from MetService, forecasting "possible tornadoes", it came from the north, hitting the Ruakituri Valley, northeast of Wairoa, about 4pm.

Heavy rain hit Te Awanga late afternoon and caused a power pole to spark and set off small grass fires, before the top of the pole burst into flames.

The fleeting storm came the same day as Hastings hit a national high of 30C, and just three days after local authorities urged water conservation and imposed fire restrictions.

Also yesterday a tornado blasted through Hamurana, on the northeastern shores of Lake Rotorua about mid-afternoon, while just over an hour earlier three people were killed as tornadoes hit Hobsonville and Whenuapai, West Auckland.

 


 


While the impacts were not as severe in Hawke's Bay, where warnings were lifted about 5.40pm, the spectacle appeared to have overshadowed the threats and the consequences.

At Ruakituri, Teresa Smith was early last night resorting to gas cooking after a lightning strike knocked out the power supply, leaving her 13-year-old guests, a niece and a granddaughter, having to occupy their time with playing cards after the cartoons vanished as the TV shut down.

The thunder was "penetrating", the teenagers' eyes were "popping out" as they watched the lightning, and then there was a "massive downpour".

But it was also "freaky", she said, describing the moments she could see simultaneously the "black" in the north, and the clear sky of Whakapunake to the south.

Wairoa volunteer Deputy Fire Chief and tow-firm operator Barry Gasson was heading back to town from Mohaka, when he saw the storm heading towards him.

"As we got closer to town it was down to less than a second between lightning and thunder," he said, adding that with every roll and clap of thunder "the ute was absolutely vibrating".

Mahia resident Joe Hedley said he hadn't seen such lightning, thunder or a downpour for "a long time", but as quickly as it came the storm was vanishing to the southeast.

Short storms with thunder and lightning can be expected in Hawke's Bay about the second week of December most years.

In perhaps the most severe December storms of the last decade, 1575 lightning strikes were reported to have hit the ground in Hawke's Bay on December 13, 2003, when the daily maximum temperature was hovering in the 28-30C range, 10 days after the flooding of central Hastings as rooftop and stormwater systems were unable to cope with a major downpour.

Hawke's Bay also heard and saw spectacular thunder and lightning on December 7, 2002, December 9, 2005, and December 11, 2008.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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