Drought hits New Zealand

Thursday 25th Apr 2013 by theWeather Club

New Zealand has experienced one of the worst, widespread droughts in 30 years and many expect the drought declaration to remain in place until September. The prolonged dry period began in December 2012 and has gradually extended right across the North Island. Farmers estimate losses approaching two billion New Zealand Dollars (£1.1B) in export earnings after they were forced to reduce their herds and cut back on milk production.

Global dairy prices have risen over the past six weeks, partly in response to the drought. The financial effects are likely to be felt for at least another year and government officials have kept in place an official drought designation which allows farmers to continue receiving temporary financial assistance.

Drought was declared for the north of the country on the 27th February, shortly followed by the rest of the North Island and parts of the South Island. The prolonged dry spell was due to the presence of a large, blocking area of high pressure that dominated the weather across New Zealand while areas of low pressure, and their associated rainfall, skirted either side of the country. Many places have had little or no rainfall since early February. In January only 9.2mm of rainfall was reported at Auckland Airport; the January average is 71mm. Any rain that did fall was sporadic and fell during just a few days, for example on 17th March when rainfall associated with the remnants of tropical cyclone Sandra brought some heavy rain to the west coast of the South Island and central parts of the country.

As well as being one of the driest summers on record, the long periods of cloud-free sky meant it was one of the sunniest and warmest. New Plymouth recorded 928 hours of sunshine in the first three months of the year, significantly more than the 686 hours of average sunshine for those months. The highest temperature recorded over the period was 34°C at Gisborne in March and in many spots temperatures exceeded 30°C on several days, and temperatures continued to reach into the high twenties right up to the end of March. Invercargill reported a high of 27°C on the 31st March, 10°C above average. Christmas Day 2012 was also one for the record books with many places recording their warmest 25th December day. The highest temperature recorded was 33°C at Roxburgh.