A new online petition to move the traditional summer holiday break back a month has drawn "steady" public support, its instigator Peter Dunne says.

As at this morning, more than 1860 people had supported the Change.org petition last week launched by the United Future leader - with fewer than 640 signatures now required to hit his 2,500 target.

Dunne wants a short break at Christmas and the main holiday in mid-February to mid-March, saying a noticeable change in summer's weather pattern meant "February, March, even into April has been pretty good".

Change of seasons: Time to move the Kiwi summer?


It comes amid a summer that has failed to impress sun-seekers in many parts of the country, with breezy sou-westers take the heat off summer's warmth in western parts, and even nastier cold snaps thumping temperatures into single digits for others in the deep south."

The public response has been steady with many, many positive messages coming in," Dunne told the Herald today.

"The petition is about giving people an opportunity to have their say, and to determine the level of public support or otherwise overall."

Dunne said he had no direct feedback from climate scientists, who have questioned whether his idea holds true.

One scientist from the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) delved into the data, finding that perceptions of summers past were clouding reality.

Nava Fedaeff compared long-term average maximum temperatures and the number of wet days in January and February, and came up with some key facts.

While February was generally warmer and drier for most of us, it wasn't the same all over New Zealand.

Gisborne and Masterton, for example, on average had a wetter and cooler February.

"The fact is that the average temperatures in January and February only differ by about a degree," she said.

In Whangarei the average maximum temperature was 24.3C in both January and February, while Aucklanders saw maximum temperatures 0.6C higher in February than January, while Timaru was 0.7C cooler in February than January.

Last February was an exception - it was the second warmest February on record for New Zealand.

"Also February is not immune to bad weather - there are plenty of historic examples to back this up."

In 2009 ex-tropical cyclone Innis brought heavy rain, high winds and minor flooding to many parts of New Zealand.

Then just a week later another storm affected almost all the North Island, and some of the South Island.

Fedaeff said normal climate variability was responsible for the summer weather, rather than any significant shift in the timing of the season.

"Sure it's not as hot as last summer, and the sea is cooler but this is not the start of a new trend. Weather varies from year to year, as it always has.

"We are not seeing weather patterns change significantly, but what we have seen this summer is typical of how summers can differ over time."

The 2011/12 summer was cold in January and February while in 1974/75, December and January were exceptionally warm while February experienced average temperatures.

This summer started with near average temperatures in December but January has seen below or much below average temperatures for many parts of the country - except in the east and north of the North Island, where Kerikeri was tracking for its 3rd warmest January on record and Hastings 2nd warmest in terms of mean maximum temperature.

What the numbers say

The Herald also analysed monthly temperature figures provided by NIWA, dating back to 2000.

The average February temperature across the country between 1981 and 2010 was 17.22C, putting the month just ahead of January's average of 17.13C.

And while December got a bad rap, the country's average temperature for the last month of the calendar year is 15.69C, ahead - marginally - of March's 15.67C.

December temperatures were warmer than the 1981-2010 average of 15.69C two out of three of the last 17 summers, but recent history may have skewered perceptions - temperatures have fallen 0.14 and 0.29C below the average for the last two Decembers.

The warmest Decembers since the turn of the century were in 2000 and 2012, with a 16.83C average.

Figures for March also show an overall win for warmth.

Overall temperatures for 11 of the last 16 Marches were above the 1981-2010 average of 15.67C. But, in contrast to December, the last two Marches were warmer than average.

In March 2015 the average temperature across the country was 16.7C - almost a degree above average.

Last March was even warmer, with an average of 16.96C - the warmest of the last 16 summers.

Two swimmers enjoy the unusually big waves in the high seas on a normally placid Takapuna Beach in February 2008. Photo / File
Two swimmers enjoy the unusually big waves in the high seas on a normally placid Takapuna Beach in February 2008. Photo / File

The starkest contrast in the figures for summers since the new millennium was February last year, when the average temperature rocketed to 19.46C - almost two and a quarter degrees above the 1981-2010 average.

But overall, less than half of the last 16 summers - seven - have seen February temperatures top their 1981-2010 average of 17.22C.

January was also warmer than average last year, with 17.58C recorded.

That's almost half a degree above the 1981-2010 average of 17.13C.

Eight of the last 16 Januaries ended with average temperatures rising above average, the warmest in 2008, when the average reached 18.36C.

What about this February?

"Admittedly, it is hard to do much worse," NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll said.

The start to February is expected to bring a good deal of settled and warm weather to the North Island and eastern South Island.

While in general the weather will be more typical of summer, the perception may be that it is fantastic - mainly because of how poor it was for many places during the month of January.

"It is important to point out that while the weather will be better for holidaymakers, severely dry weather in Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, and Northland is not good news for farmers."

There was some indication that a period of unsettled weather may unfold during mid-February, potentially providing beneficial rains to the North Island, Noll said.

Weekend weather

Meanwhile, the entire North Island, along with Marlborough and Nelson, was in for fine weather today, MetService reported.

Buller and northern Westland were mostly sunny today, while in southern Westland and Fiordland, rain was spreading north this morning, heavy and possibly thundery for a time, then clearing during the afternoon.

In Canterbury, today's weather would be often cloudy, with isolated showers south of Christchurch from afternoon, while people in Otago and Southland could expect scattered showers to clear this afternoon.

Tomorrow, weather across the North Island would be partly cloudy, with isolated showers from Waikato to Hawkes Bay southwards.

Weather would be mainly fine in the South Island, with the exception of a few early showers in Buller, and late rain in Fiordland.

Houses and streets in Feilding flooded by the overflowing Makino Stream and Oroua River in February, 2004. Photo / File
Houses and streets in Feilding flooded by the overflowing Makino Stream and Oroua River in February, 2004. Photo / File

Forecast maximum temperatures, for today and tomorrow respectively, were 25C and 24C in Auckland, 26C and 27C in Hamilton, 24C and 26C in Tauranga, 18C and 21C in Wellington, 26C and 20C in Christchurch, and 21C and 19C in Dunedin.

Think February's weather is perfect?

February 19-21, 2009:

Ex-tropical Cyclone Innis brought rain, high winds and minor flooding were experienced in many parts of New Zealand from Auckland to Stewart Island. The heaviest falls occurred in Taranaki, Canterbury and Otago. One woman died after her car rolled near Opotiki.

February 27-March 1, 2009: A storm affected most places in the North Island, as well as a few places in the South Island, with heavy rain, flooding, high winds and heavy seas. Particularly heavy rain fell in Northland, the Coromandel and East Cape. Three people died in Northland in car accidents on wet roads.

February 10-16, 2008: Troughs and lows brought unsettled and stormy weather to several parts of the country over the period. Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago experienced severe thunderstorms, heavy rain and flooding causing number of road accidents which resulted three casualties and some injuries. In Otago a man was swept away in Silver Stream, near Mosgiel and drowned.

February 22-23, 2008: A storm brought heavy rain, flooding, high winds and high seas to Northland, Auckland and the Coromandel. Weather-related road accidents saw five people injured in Dome Valley, Auckland, and one person killed in the Waikato.

February 5-7, 2007: Northland, particularly the Far North, experienced thunderstorms, heavy rain, flooding, slips, and high winds.
Residents and tourists were isolated on the Far North peninsula when a bridge was damaged. A sailor on a ship off the coast of Northland was injured by a gust of wind. Flooding and slips also occurred in the western Waikato and there were rough seas in Auckland.

February 14-19, 2004: A storm brought high winds, heavy rain, flooding and slips to much fo the North Island as well as the upper South Island. The lower North Island was severely affected, with 100-year floods in Manawatu-Wanganui and 50-year floods in Wellington causing millions of dollars of damage. Thousands of people were evacuated. Two people drowned in the sea at Wellington and one person was presumed drowned in the Marlborough Sounds. Trees felled on houses caused injuries to a girl in Wellington and a woman in Auckland. A person was also injured after felled power lines started a house fire.

- Additional reporting: Cherie Howie