Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Big dry, strong highs to continue

February's record sunshine levels and high temperatures have been a boon for sunseekers but not for drought-stricken farmers who have struggled with below-average rainfall in many areas. Photo / Alan Gibson
February's record sunshine levels and high temperatures have been a boon for sunseekers but not for drought-stricken farmers who have struggled with below-average rainfall in many areas. Photo / Alan Gibson

Here comes the end of the golden weather - but March is still forecast to treat sunseekers to the afterglow of an extremely fine summer.

A summer characterised by highs that intensified and held on in our skies would still have a grip this month - only a looser one.

"We are expecting the highs to continue in March, but just not as strong as we had over the summer - and obviously the temperature has started to head south as we head toward the end of March, anyway," Niwa climate scientist Georgina Griffiths said.

"I think we've had the peak of the sunshine because we've had the peak of the highs ... but we have still got a relatively dry March forecast compared with what's normal."

Autumn temperatures were likely to be above average across the South Island and average to above average in the North Island.

The news wasn't good for drought-hit farmers in desperate need of rain - although rainfall levels were expected to return to normal in autumn over most areas.

Rainfall between March and May was forecast to be near normal for most regions, except for the West Coast of the South Island which was in for a stronger dose than usual.

But soil moisture deficits - pushed to extreme levels in many regions - would still need time to recover from the big dry.

Niwa's climate summary for February, released yesterday, confirmed what many in particularly thirsty areas would have expected for the month. Highs kept rain-bearing weather systems such as lows and fronts away, resulting in an extremely dry and sunny February for many regions of the country.

In parts of Northland, Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, rainfall totalled less than 15mm - and less than 15 per cent of the normal amount for the month.

It was the driest February on record for Milford Sound and Leigh, north of Auckland, which also received its driest month since records began in 1966.

The dryness was also widespread across the country.

In parts of Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Taupo, and along the West Coast of the South Island, just a quarter of the rain normally seen over February was received, while the rate was less than half over the rest of New Zealand. The exceptions were between Wanganui and Wellington, in Central Otago and the Lakes District, which all received near normal rainfall, and Marlborough and the Kaikoura coast, where between 50 and 80 per cent of the normal amount fell.

Across most of the North Island and in much of the South Island, high pressure systems delivered enough sunshine to push records 125 per cent above February's usual amount.

Of the six main centres, Wellington was the sunniest but also the wettest, Auckland the warmest, Dunedin the coolest, and Christchurch the driest.

Our February

Greatest hits
34.6C - the highest temperature, at Alexandra on February 1.
1.1C - the lowest, at Mt Ruapehu on February 6.
278mm - the highest one-day rainfall, at North Egmont on February 4.
145km/h - the highest wind gust, at Southwest Cape, Stewart Island, February 10.
634 hours - New Plymouth's sunshine hours for the year so far, putting it in the lead ahead of usual contender Whakatane (608 hours), Lake Tekapo (606 hours) and Tauranga (575 hours).

At a glance
Rainfall: Record low for parts of Northland, Auckland and Bay of Plenty. Widespread dryness elsewhere.
Soil moisture: Extreme deficits in most of the central and upper North Island and parts of Marlborough, Canterbury, and Central Otago. Significant deficits elsewhere.
Sunshine: Extremely sunny with many records broken.
Temperature: Afternoons were well above average and mornings were generally below average in most regions.

Source: Niwa

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 22 Sep 2014 14:20:29 Processing Time: 408ms