Balmy summer has its downside

By Yvonne Tahana, Jamie Morton

Our sweltering summer has parched soil, heightened fire risks and boosted demand for water to levels one long-time Auckland carrier hasn't seen for seven years.

Predictions that the summer would bring unusually balmy conditions have been borne out by a hot, dry January and a February set to stay sunny after a much-needed patch of rain last week.

Auckland - and particularly northern areas - is experiencing an extreme deficit of soil moisture, as are parts of Northland, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taupo.

The deficit has been classed as significant for the rest of the North Island by the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research.

Water carriers in the Auckland region have been busy meeting extra demand, especially in tank-dependent areas such as Whangaparaoa and Waiheke Island.

"I've been doing this for about 14 or 15 years and it must have been seven years ago that it was last like this," Foley's Water owner-operator Brian Field said.

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The Auckland region could be heading towards drought conditions if the heat continued over the next two months, he said.

Auckland dam storage levels were at about three-quarters - and 3.5 per cent below average for this time of year, but extra water could be drawn from the Waikato River.

Latest figures from Watercare showed nearly three billion litres of water was used last week, compared with 3.1 billion the week before.

Farmers were looking forward to forecast rain, but whether it was enough to help reduce a high soil moisture deficit across the country remained to be seen, said Federated Farmers spokeswoman Katie Milne.

"It's going to take a lot of rain to make a serious difference, and we'll need a lot through autumn to set things up for winter."

But the heat has slowed the vine-killing disease Psa-V which has ravaged kiwifruit orchards across the North Island. Kiwifruit Vine Health spokeswoman Lara Harrison said the hot weather gave vines time to recover from the disease and grow, butthis was expected to changewhen autumn arrived.

Average temperatures for much of the country for January were generally bang on average, 17.3°C (or 0.2°C higher than usual) but for Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and Masterton regions, less than half of the normal rainfall was recorded.

"Anything under 60 per cent is extremely notable - it's certainly the driest time of year anyway - so to get a third to a half of what was typical at a time when it's hot means that has pretty much produced the soil moisture deficit," Niwa climate scientist Georgina Griffiths said.

"It's been drier than a normal summer but we have got 17 days of the summer left to go. It's something people have noticed ... lovely hot weather. For much of the North Island it's been sunnier, warmer and drier."

In January Auckland had 10 per cent of its usual rain while Tauranga had 5 per cent, both marks hitting their second-lowest total for the month since records began, a pattern which was exceeded in smaller centres Te Puke, Warkworth and Whitianga, which experienced their lowest recorded rainfall levels.

About half the North Island remains under a prohibited fire season, while a total fire ban is in place in a few areas on the east coast.

National Rural Fire Authority operations manager Gary Lockyer described the season as the driest for several years, creating an elevated fire danger in many parts of the country.

The weather

Rain Dec 1 to Feb 10

* Auckland 104mm - 46 per cent of normal
* Whakatane 83mm - 34 per cent of normal
* Dargaville 82mm - 33 per cent of normal
* Napier 58mm - 31 per cent of normal
* Taupo 92mm - 38 per cent of normal

Sunshine this year

* Auckland, 255hrs - 110 per cent of normal
* Tauranga, 301 - 115 per cent of normal
* Hamilton, 258 - 111 per cent of normal
* Wellington, 263 - 106 per cent of normal
* Christchurch, 289 - 121 per cent of normal
* Dunedin, 237 - 131 per cent of normal
Source: Niwa

The water*

* 76.5 per cent total water storage of Auckland's dams
*80 per cent average for this time of year.

*Storage figures do not include amount drawn from Waikato River. Situation as at Sunday, February 10. Source: Watercare

- NZ Herald

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