Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

MetService too slow, rival claims

State company says its first alert on weekend storm was issued last Tuesday.

This large slip blocked the road to Milford Sound in Fiordland. Photo / Supplied
This large slip blocked the road to Milford Sound in Fiordland. Photo / Supplied

Independent weatherman Philip Duncan has hit out at the country's official forecaster, claiming the MetService was too slow issuing a severe weather warning for Auckland at the weekend.

The WeatherWatch analyst questioned why the MetService warning came at 6.19pm on Saturday when "we were talking about gales in Auckland as early as Tuesday".

Mr Duncan said high winds had already wreaked havoc across the city, causing widespread power cuts and felling tree branches, by the time of the warning.

"It's the taxpayers who fund those warnings and 1.5 million people didn't get an official taxpayer-funded warning ... and I've got a problem with that."

Mr Duncan said his gripe was not a case of them-and-us. "It's to do with emergency services ... which really should get a heads-up."

But MetService chief forecaster Peter Kreft said the city had been well advised, with a severe weather watch notice on Friday, along with a severe weather outlook the previous Tuesday.

"So in fact Auckland was well covered by a severe weather warning for strong winds on Saturday, and they turned up as expected."

(Weather "warnings" are given to media for broadcast or publication.)

The mean wind speed in Auckland was between 50km/h and 60km/h on Saturday, gusting between 65km/h and 95km/h - the MetService's definition of a gale.

Saturday night's warning was prompted by the possibility that a small low could have pushed the winds to severe gale speed as it rolled across the North Island south of Auckland, Mr Kreft said.

The high winds were to blame for more than 200 Fire Service call-outs, mostly to downed trees, on Saturday as well as diverted flights, closed roads and stranded cruise ship passengers.

And yesterday, emergency services attended more incidents - including a food truck blown into a Malaysia Airlines jet parked at Auckland Airport. As firefighters used air bags to right the truck, officials decided to cancel the 2.15pm flight and put passengers on to others.

Gusts at the airport hit 75km/h yesterday morning and around 65km/h throughout the day, although winds on average were not as strong as those during Saturday's storm.

Contractors were yesterday clearing debris from a large landslide overnight on Friday which has blocked about 200m of the Milford Sound road in Fiordland.

In Akaroa, about 700 mainly American and European passengers were able to reboard the Sea Princess yesterday after being stranded on Saturday, booking out the town.

MetService forecaster Philippa Murdoch said the deep low system had now cleared and the rest of week was forecast to be milder.

There would be showers in some parts of NZ, with a small, weaker front due to arrive in the South Island, "but nothing like the weekend".

- NZ Herald

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