Rain is set to ease across Northland on Tuesday as Cyclone Gabrielle continues to move southwards — but the real punch will be in the wind with gusts of up to 140km/h expected in the morning.
MetService meteorologist Andrew James said Northland’s red heavy rain warning was due to expire at midnight on Monday with the rain continuing to ease off throughout the morning, but the red strong wind warning would stay in place until 9pm on Tuesday.
”There’ll be a real shift in focus to wind. You can expect severe wind gusts of up to 130-140km/h, especially in the morning.”
The change of wind direction which started in the Far North on Monday, from southeast to southwest, would continue.
That could have a dramatically different effect as areas that had been sheltered could now be exposed to the full force of the wind.
Any objects liable to be blown away, such as trampolines, should be secured, and boaties had to be especially conscious of the wind shift when they were making decisions about where to seek shelter.
James said Northlanders could even expect “fairly fine” conditions on Tuesday afternoon but the wind would remain strong.
Northlanders awoke to weather-driven havoc as Cyclone Gabrielle headed for land bringing with it relentless rains and lashings of strong winds reaching up to 140km/h in some places.
Whangārei has copped the worst of the rain, with a weather station at Glenbervie recording 334mm of rain since the storm began on Saturday evening.
The Water St station received 292mm and 242mm fell at Whangārei Airport. The Far North fared better, with the highest rainfall of 174mm at Kaikohe. Kaitāia Airport received just 31mm.
A large wind gust of 139km/h was recorded at Tutukaka Harbour in the hour to 5am today, the highest since a 140 km/h gale at Cape Reinga yesterday morning.
MetService meteorologist Peter Little said the wind direction was expected to change this afternoon, moving from southwest to southeast.
”Maybe those places that haven’t seen the strong winds such as the places in the west, they’ll certainly notice it this afternoon as those winds turn around to the southwest and really pick up.”
The red heavy rain warning for Northland expires at midnight when the downpours are expected to ease. The strong wind warning, however, remains in place until 9pm tomorrow.
A heavy rain warning is in place for Northland until midnight today with the most severe downpours forecast to be confined to the south and west this afternoon.
At 5.30am Cyclone Gabrielle was currently about 150km northeast of Cape Reinga and was ‘re-curving’ southwest to pass by Northland today, bringing further rain and more very strong south-easterlies.
The winds are expected to turn to the southwest later today with some very strong gusts – overnight conditions will become slightly drier but there will still be strong winds.
Metservice issued a red wind warning for the region up to 9pm today as wind gusts were forecast to reach 120km/h to 130km/h.
WeatherWatch says Cyclone Gabrielle’s air pressure is expected to drop in the next 24 hours, making the storm more intense.
The on-again-off-again stretch of State Highway 1 between Brynderwyn and Waipū remains closed due to a number of large slips in the area.
A Waka Kotahi spokesperson said the route would likely be closed for the rest of the day “given the worst of the weather is yet to come”.
Light vehicles may detour via Kaiwaka and Mangawhai, while heavy vehicles must detour via SH12/SH14 (via Dargaville).
Police are urging anyone who doesn’t need to travel to stay home after a diversion around flooding on State Highway 1 at Whakapara, north of Whangārei, itself became flooded.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency had been diverting SH1 traffic onto Jordan Valley Rd but Senior Sergeant Brian Swann, of Northland police, said that was now also flooded.
Waka Kotahi was setting up a diversion to the diversion but the agency’s options were limited, Swann said.
”Unless you really have to you shouldn’t be driving.”
While the tide was now dropping across Northland people still needed to be wary and ready to evacuate.
It is understood police have rescued a number of motorists whose vehicles got stuck in the floodwaters at Whakapara.
Waka Kotahi is advising caution on SH1 through Mata, near the intersection with Cotton Rd. There is flooding in the southbound lane and drivers are asked to take extra care.
A large slip made of trees, rocks, and clay in Whangārei Heads cut off access to Pataua South earlier this morning. Concerned locals are keeping a close eye on the rising tide.
Waka Kotahi is advising extra caution on SH10, just south of Totara North Rd, due to an under slip. A temporary speed restriction is in place.
As of 3.30pm on Monday, 12 local roads in the Far North were closed entirely due to fallen trees or flooding.
They were Callaghans Rd, Doels Rd, Forest Rd, Matawaia-Maromkau Rd, Mason Rd, Monument Rd, Quinces Landing, Redcliffs Rd, Takahue Rd, Te Riha Roadway, Waikare Rd and Waiōmio Rd.
Another four roads — Broadwood Rd, Kaitāia Awaroa Rd, Kohumaru Rd and Pawarenga Rd — had been reduced to one lane by downed trees.
Six roads were still open but caution was required due to trees or other hazards. They were Oromahoe Rd, Puketotara Rd, Tapuhi Rd, Upokarau Rd, Wekaweka Rd and Waiare Rd.
At least 12 roads are now closed in the Whangarei district, as the city begins to flood. The streets include Porowini Ave, Kaka St and Shoemaker Rd. More than 37 other streets have been affected by slips, fallen trees or flooding.
In downtown Whangārei, Porowini Ave is closed due to flooding outside Mitre 10. Another 23 roads, including Hatea Dr and Riverside Dr are passable with caution.
Riverside Dr is affected by flooding and a tree has fallen on Hatea Dr. There are two slips on Whangārei Heads Rd, but Whangārei District Council said the main route is currently passable.
Kiwi Ave and Otuhi Rd have now been closed due to fallen trees and Shoemaker Rd is closed due to flooding.
In Kaipara, Cassidy Rd and Marlborough Rd are currently closed due to fallen trees. Flooding has also been reported on Montgomery Ave in Dargaville.
Brigades rushed off their feet
It was a huge night for firefighters across Northland with 72 call-outs in the 12 hours between 5pm Sunday and 5am Monday.
Those are only the call-outs listed in Fire and Emergency’s online notification system so the actual number of incidents responded to is likely to be significantly higher.
The busiest brigade across the region was Whangārei - the region’s only paid brigade - with 17 call-outs during that period. Of Northland’s volunteer brigades, Onerahi was called out 12 times — once every hour — while the Whangārei Heads crew responded eight times and Kamo five.
In the Kaipara District, Mangawhai Fire Brigade was the busiest with seven callouts. The Far North got off relatively lightly with its call-outs, mostly for downed trees, spread evenly across the district.
Paihia and Russell brigades, both of which are responsible for areas vulnerable to easterly storms, were the busiest.
Between 5am and 11am, FENZ received another 86 calls for help from Northlanders most of which were for trees that had fallen on the roads and brought down power lines, and loose roofs.
A “small number” of calls were about flooding, mainly in Whangārei.
FENZ spokesperson Brad Mosby said people should take the opportunity to tie down items such as trampolines or outdoor furniture that could become airborne in high winds as the worst of the weather was yet to come.
He also urged people not to drive through floodwaters and to call emergency services if life was at risk.
The combination of lower barometric pressure and storm surge has bought flooding to a number of coastal locations and there have also been reports of boats being blown ashore.
Northland harbourmaster Jim Lyle said apart from the destroyed trimaran at Paihia, boats had ended up on the beach at Parua Bay and at Marsden Pt, and two vessels had broken free at Tūtūkākā.
One, a catamaran, had ended up damaged on rocks while another somehow managed to sail itself across the harbour into the marina entrance — missing the breakwaters on either side — where it was caught and secured.
At Houhora a 50-foot vessel was beached, another came off its boat lifter, and a third reportedly sank.
Elsewhere boats came off their pile moorings due to the unusually high tide or dragged their moorings or anchors.
Although there were a large number of incidents spread along the entire east coast, as of last night Lyle said he was relieved it hadn’t been as bad as previous major weather events.
As the worst of Cyclone Gabrielle shifted south on Monday the most obvious sign of damage in Paihia was the wreckage of a trimaran scattered the length of Paihia’s main beach.
Piles of smashed timber, mattresses and personal belongings were scattered for several hundred metres along the shore, from Stockman’s Pt to the boat ramp at the northern end of the beach.
Only one recognisable piece of the vessel, about 2m long, remained. The rest was little more than matchwood.
The trimaran had been moored off Paihia but broke free overnight and was smashed against rocks.
Members of Paihia’s community patrol group were guarding the wreckage after reports of people taking items.
Donna Smith said she was also concerned debris could be washed out again at high tide around 2pm.
”We came down to see if the owner needed any help, and to make sure there’s no looting, which there has been, unfortunately.”
Police would go through CCTV footage in a bid to identify anyone who had taken the unlucky boatie’s belongings.
Paihia wharf took a hammering from the cyclone in Sunday’s high tides but on Monday the only obvious sign of damage was to decking and a glass panel by the marlin sculpture.
Waves had also damaged a section of decking at nearby Zane Grey’s Restaurant. Sections of the deck between the over-water restaurant and Horotutu Park were removed pre-emptively to reduce the waves’ impact.
Storm debris, driftwood and sand still coated parts of Marsden Rd in Paihia and Te Karuwha Parade in Waitangi on Monday. Very few businesses were open on what would normally be a bustling summer day.
In 120km/h winds yesterday, volunteers from Coastguard Bay of Islands successfully assisted a 4m runabout with two people on board back to the safety of shore when their engine failed just outside Matauwhi Bay.
Early this morning, Coastguard Houhora volunteers were called to Houhora Harbour to pump water from a sinking yacht fortunately with no one on board.
Northlanders brave the conditions
While the weather is grim, it seems calmer in the Far North than yesterday with dawn seeing the night’s rain diminish to a drizzle and the wind gusting with less ferocity.
At Doubtless Bay, there was even a blue sky on the horizon. Surfer Thomas Mostes, 39, was surfing at Taipa and reckoned the sea and wind calmer than it was yesterday.
”It’s not as bad as I thought,” he said.
“Yesterday morning the waves were huge.”
Cable Bay’s Stephanie Simpson was out walking Eva along Taipa Beach in weather that she said was comparatively calm after a wild, wet and windy night. She said good instructions from Civil Defence had her household well prepared for the cyclone.
In the Far North, locals at Kaitaia and coastal Ahipara have expressed relief and surprise they have escaped largely unscathed so far but are still bracing for the weather to turn worse.
At Ahipara, at the base of 90 Mile Beach, those spoken to noted the change in wind direction which yesterday was blowing out to sea, pushing waves up into big breakers.
Today, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, flattening waves and leaving the famous surfing spot looking and sounding tame compared to its usual pounding thump.
Joel O’Rourke, 27, of Ahipara was watching his sister and partner swimming.
Sheltered by a range of hills, O’Rourke said the community’s night had passed without event.
”We were expecting to have our power out for days. But it’s been fine. We’ve had the power out in far less stormy conditions.
”We’ve been bracing for the worst,” says O’Rourke, “but the worst has yet to come.”
Further south, people donned their raincoats to check out the raging torrents of Whangārei Falls.