Possibility of a drought looming

By Alice Lock -
5 comments
Hawke's Bay farmer Bruno Chambers said these persistent dry winds are unforgiving and could cause challenges in the future. Photo/Warren Buckland.
Hawke's Bay farmer Bruno Chambers said these persistent dry winds are unforgiving and could cause challenges in the future. Photo/Warren Buckland.

A drought could be on the horizon as Hawke's Bay continues to be trapped in a flow of strong westerly winds and little rainfall.

MetService meteorologist Kyle Lee said the persistent westerly flow was not right for full on rain, as it comes from over the ranges.

"The wind from the ranges helps dry out the surface below. A different regime for wind flow is needed."

Hawke's Bay Regional Council climate scientist Kathleen Kozyniak said soil moisture was continuing to drop as the rainfall for November and December was well below the average.

"We've only had a wet day or two in December and early January which haven't made any difference, and no significant rain is expected in the near future," Ms Kozyniak said.

NIWA climate scientist Ben Noll supported Ms Kozyniak and said the chance of any significant rainfall and relief during the next 10 days was very low.

"People may experience a couple of light showers but this won't change the overall status of this abnormal dryness. The northwesterly winds are ramping it up."

NIWA is closely watching the soil moisture but Mr Noll said it was even more of an issue with evapotranspiration, the process of moisture to the atmosphere, taking place.

Usually the rainfall makes up for the moisture lost but with this dry stint that is not happening.

Ministry of Primary Industries also monitor the soil moisture levels with NIWA, Rural Support Trusts and sector organisations.

Like NIWA, MPI do not declare a drought but will assess the adverse conditions by looking at the communities' ability to cope and the magnitude of the event.

They will then notify the Minister of Primary Industries and the Government will decide what support it will provide.

An MPI spokeswoman said Hawke's Bay farmers were accustomed to extreme weather conditions and were resilient in their farming.

"It is a watching brief but at this stage we are not too concerned."

Te Mata Park Trust Board chairman Bruno Chambers said the dryness came quickly after a pretty encouraging start to summer.

"It is quite a sharp contrast to a month ago and I think the difference to previous years is the lack of moisture that has carried over from last summer."

He said the persistent westerly winds were unforgiving and could create challenges in the future.

"January and February are pretty dry months anyway so we can expect more of the same."

This continual dry and hot weather was evident in the 2016 climate summary released by NIWA, which showed the region had the hottest year on record last year.

These results are concerning local environment specialists who believe the dry weather will have profound effects on Hawke's Bay if the environment is not better managed.

Forest & Bird Hawke's Bay regional manager Amelia Geary said the warmer and drier it gets leads to more pests, weeds, floods and fires.

"We need to try and minimise the impact of climate disruption. Measures like planting more trees will make the environment more resilient for this disruptive climate."

"Farmers are farming to the conditions as they see them, but the environment is less resilient and not capable of maintaining the resilience it once had in less extreme climate events."

She said people may need more irrigation but instead of working against nature they should work with it.

"No matter how many dams, the environment can't sustain what it used to."

Hawke's Bay Regional Council councillor Paul Bailey said it was important to ensure the agricultural community was able to cope with drought-like conditions.

"I think we need to look at how farmers can increase resilience in their land use. This revolves around wetland capacity and humus in soils so there is retention of moisture."

According to Ms Geary this dry and hot weather will also have profound effects on the ranges around Hawke's Bay with 'masting' taking place.

This is where plants mass produce all their seeds, creating an abundance of food for pests.

"It is bad for the trees as they can't sustain it, which can then lead to a forest collapse," Ms Geary said.

She said it is a global problem but is particularly concerning for Hawke's Bay with the headwaters based in the ranges.

"It is a big deal for water quality and volume, as it is supposed to supply thousands of residents on a daily basis."

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