Weather Watch

Weather analyst Philip Duncan checks the forecast and the story behind the temperatures

Weather Watch: Winter's deadly effects hard to prepare for

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Farmers say the mercury dropped to -12, maybe even further.
Photo / Christine Cornege
Farmers say the mercury dropped to -12, maybe even further. Photo / Christine Cornege

Are farmers to blame for the death of more than 200 cattle in the snow storm that struck the South Island two weeks ago?

The news of the deaths on the West Coast was fresh last week in this column, but is still being talked about in the mainstream media. A freak wind chill, potentially colder than -12C, killed the mature cattle.

One local farmer told me that he believes it was one of the deadliest one-day weather events to hit the dairy industry.

But my column sparked some angry reader comments at nzherald.co.nz.

Ann wrote, "It would be interesting to see how many of these farms have the shelter belts of trees left that have provided shelter in the past. Many of the trees today are being removed from farms to allow for the large water irrigating machines to move across the land. The animals appear to be a lot more exposed than before. The South Island has always had wind and snow in the winter, so it is nothing new."

Tango Kiwi said, "Where is the public outrage in all this when it is plainly cruel to have animals outside in these conditions. (-12C)? In any civilised country they would be housed inside."

However, this truly was a freak event and incredibly localised, mostly to one isolated valley that had a wind chill that couldn't have been predicted.

I did still take the angry comments to West Coast farmer and NewstalkZB host Andy Thompson who responded, "All farmers farm to the conditions we expect on a regular basis, ie one to six month events.

"No farmer sets his farm up or farms for events that occur once every 50-100 years. The conditions that day were extreme; no local could remember anything even remotely like it in the valley.

"Minus 10 to minus 15 wind-chill never happens on the West Coast."

Although this was a tragic loss of life, based on the facts I've been presented with, it was most likely unavoidable due to the freak nature of this event.

I am yet to meet a farmer who doesn't care about stock loss.

Finally, it's worth keeping in mind that most days the West Coast has temperatures similar to Auckland.

But the wind flow, the event and the local topography created this deadly isolated event that we all hope doesn't repeat itself.

- Herald on Sunday

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