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J07

Drought in New Zealand

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This season started off with a horrendous October- wet, cold and with many many high winds. Unseasonal late frost caused vineyard damage. Then suddenly November's second half made that month one of the warmest and driest in a long time. Not a good start to summer, unless you're a holiday maker (and plenty of those about!).

This transitioned into January which has ended so dry that I feel it may be worth a thread in extreme weather- since it may develop into something worthy of that description.

February has begun with hot, dry Nor'Westers starting fires in the south, followed by a cool southerly change bringing rain. Christchurch was up to 34C today, and in one hour dropped from 32C to 18C as the S pushed through.

There are some almost unbelievable stats coming out from Jan, which you can access here:

http://www.niwascience.co.nz/__data/assets...990/0801sum.pdf

A basic summary in my words:

Rainfall

This is the big one. Basically, for almost the entire population of New Zealand, rainfall has been below 50%. For perhaps 50% of NZ, rainfall has been below 25%. The worst hit area is the Waikato (this is an area south of Auckland, centred on the city of Hamilton). Anyone seen Lord of the Rings? Matamata, the green and pleasant vale where they filmed Hobbiton has only got 4% of its January rainfall. Various areas in the Waikato and east/central South Island have also got <10% of average rain. Considering the cumulative effect of the dry November, this has obviously created major issues. When you see pictures on the news, you have skinny sheep running across land that looks hot, barren, dusty and entirely infertile. Totally unsuitable for sheep farming. In other words- looks like Australia. But it shouldn't be like that at all. All the grass has died, all that remains is scrub.

NIWA are saying that even with normal rainfall, it won't be enough.

drought2_232.jpg

Media report:

http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/1318360/1567903

As you can see from this, it's not just a dry January that is ruining things, it's that the dry weather is looking to run all the way from November until April (at this point), adding up to some major problems that many parts of NZ do not see as often as other countries.

Temperatures

Highest temperature is 35C. Not unusual, and not all that special at all. What has caused problems is the 3 weeks period where the South Island was hitting at least 30C every day (other than 2 or 3 days I think).

Alexandra in Central Otago has had an average January maximum of 28.2C. That is 4.5C above normal! Pretty extreme stuff. Will be interesting to see how this impacts on vines and fruit they grow up there.

Alexandra is the driest town in New Zealand, getting similar rainfall to Alice Springs.

In fact, many areas of NZ in general have been getting average maxima more akin to that of the Mediterranean (normally, NZ summers are cooler that there). An interesting one is Chateau Ruapehu, averaging 20.2C, 2.5C above normally. That is on the central plateau, I would guess at something like 1200m ASL.

Sunshine

Sunniest January ever for Southland and Otago. Above average everywhere else, except Northland (rubbish weather in January - wet, cool and cloudy). Some areas have been averaging 10 hours of bright sunshine per day.

Wind

Highest gust was 98 mph, due to ex-TC Funa.

-------------

Further media reports:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikatotimes/4373371a6004.html

Please let it rain

A hot summer is bringing Waikato farmers to their knees as continuing dry weather costs tens of thousands of dollars in lost production.

Paddocks have turned to dust and farmers are struggling to feed stock following one of the earliest and longest dry periods in the region in 15 years.

FarmWise consultant and Kereone farmer James Thomas said the situation was dire and the ramifications serious.

Mr Thomas said even if a farmer lost only five per cent on an average 100,000kg/milksolids farm, that equated to a loss of $35,000 in production, not to mention supplementary feed costs. "We only milk 180 cows and I've just bought 30 tonnes of feed and it costs $400 a tonne."

The lack of rain combined with a poor spring has resulted in a shortage of supplementary feed and the relief of maize silage is still two months away.

The cost of feed has skyrocketed, with grass silage bales up to about $100 each compared to $70 last year, and palm kernal up to $450.

"People are really getting into a situation where they're having to cull cows earlier or get rid of stock," Mr Thomas said. "If they haven't grazed calves out they're trying to do that. It could be very serious."

Farmers had hoped for "some decent" rain over the weekend but the drizzle that finally arrived was not enough.

"We need a huge amount of rain ... and follow-up rain. If it remains dry now there are huge ramifications," he said.

Matamata farmer Ross Sainsbury, who milks 220 cows, said the drought was hitting his herd. "If you listen, in the background you'll hear my cows crying out in hunger. It's pretty devastating listening to these animals making this noise.

"It's just a matter now of feeding what we can afford to feed, and then reducing numbers by getting rid of surplus animals to somewhere, which basically means we'll have to cull them."

Worse than that, Mr Sainsbury will have to stop milking his cows. "I'm going to have to take some drastic action in the next 10 days ... drying a significant proportion of the herd off. If you stop milking them it reduces their feed intake by about half."

http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/423466/1563992

Drought hurting farmers

Drought hurting farmers and stock Jan 30, 2008 7:02 PM

Farmers are becoming desperate for stock feed as drought conditions bite around the country and some have to spend thousands of dollars a week just to keep their animals from starving.

"Its getting quite serious...I mean I can see guys having to walk off," says Ken Tomlinson.

Tomlinson, an Omihi farmer, is determined not to let that happen to him, spending more than $2000 a week to keep his animals alive on his dry North Canterbury farm.

There has been some light rain in the past 24 hours for the farm, but it's evaporating almost immediately.

Its nearly five years since the area had any decent rainfall at all and even if the much needed rain does arrive by the autumn it's unlikely to penetrate the ground because it's so rock hard.

Farmers say many paddocks will have to be re-sown to get new grass in the future.

"The temperature's been getting up to 42 degrees Celsius, so no self respecting blade of grass is going to grow in that temperature," says Alec Baxter, another Omihi farmer. AFAIK, this 42C is unconfirmed, probably to remain that way.

In the North Island, the drought has seen milk production fall down 12% in the Waikato; some herds are even dry. There are so many sheep farmers wanting to quit stock that there are killing queues at the country's meat works.

http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/423466/1568337

Canty fires

Canterbury dry conditions spark fires Feb 1, 2008 7:26 PM

Canterbury's tinder dry conditions and one of the hottest days of summer have had firefighters stretched to the limit battling a series of blazes.

A scrub fire threatened homes near the North Canterbury town of Swannanoa on Friday and another broke out in nearby in Rangiora.

In Christchurch itself, smoke from two other fires drifted across the cty.

Helicopters were brought in to hit the multiple burning fires in a rural settlement north of Christchurch.

"The north-westers spread it throughtout the pine trees and the hedges it's just been fanned all over the place," says a firefighter.

The fire started in a paddock and quickly spread, threatening homes.

Forty ground crew from around North Canterbury took two hours to bring the blaze under control.

"It's got into a couple of plantations and it's crowned through them so it was definitly a building fire for a while," says Tim Sheppard, the Principle Rural Fire officer.

Just across the paddocks, 11 fire appliances were still battling a blaze in Rangiora.

Central Christchurch suffered too with firemen at the scene of a blaze near Hagley Park.

"What we're trying to do is hit these things hard and fast, because the country side is ripe for burning," says Sheppard

And while a southerly change has dumped some rain further South, the outlook is for more dry weather.

Wonder what February will bring? We are entering into the warmest 3 weeks of the year, and this is also the driest month. So it doesn't bode well at all, but who knows for sure?

The other problem is that March is generally considered to be a "summer" month, as it is warmer than December in a large number of regions. It also tends to have more settled weather.

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Wow thanks for that JO

I lived in Westport (West coast S.I ) for a number of years and it was very green and lush. Canterbury was always drier, but don't remember it being quite so bad.

Do you think the mountain range has anything to do with it?

My daughter says it is very warm in Westport at present.

As a child in the 60's I remember there being hose bans in Auckland, it was so hot the ashfelt was melting on roads and the tar would stick to your shoes (jandals) ugh!

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Wow thanks for that JO

I lived in Westport (West coast S.I ) for a number of years and it was very green and lush. Canterbury was always drier, but don't remember it being quite so bad.

Do you think the mountain range has anything to do with it?

My daughter says it is very warm in Westport at present.

As a child in the 60's I remember there being hose bans in Auckland, it was so hot the ashfelt was melting on roads and the tar would stick to your shoes (jandals) ugh!

Want Switzerland? - See Queenstown.

Want New Zealand? - See Westport.

:D

(Westport's fairly recent campaign to attract tourists :D )

I'd say the mountain range has everything to do with it- down in Hokitika, there's a catchment in the gorge that might record 12m of rain in a fairly wet year, a few dozen miles to the east, in Canterbury, they'd probably be looking at maybe 0.7m in the Mckenzie.

Think Wesport hit 25C today - and probably will be one of the better places to be in NZ right now as it's sheltered from the southerly. :)

As for your story about shoes sticking to the tar in Auckland- maybe that is why everyone wanders around the city barefoot now :D :unsure:

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Want Switzerland? - See Queenstown.

Want New Zealand? - See Westport.

:D

(Westport's fairly recent campaign to attract tourists :) )

I'd say the mountain range has everything to do with it- down in Hokitika, there's a catchment in the gorge that might record 12m of rain in a fairly wet year, a few dozen miles to the east, in Canterbury, they'd probably be looking at maybe 0.7m in the Mckenzie.

Think Wesport hit 25C today - and probably will be one of the better places to be in NZ right now as it's sheltered from the southerly. :)

As for your story about shoes sticking to the tar in Auckland- maybe that is why everyone wanders around the city barefoot now :D :unsure:

could be your right about the shoes :D:)

Seriously though I hope the farmers get some rain relief soon.

Can Westport actually attract the tourists ...oh yeah there's always the coalmines, ooh and the seal colony, ooh ooh and the jet boat rides and while weré at it the drive along the gorge can be exhilarating during extreme rain. :D:D

I love NZ! I like to go back as often as I can, it's great for all sorts of passtimes even if it's just watching the tide roll in on a summers afternoon.

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Drought worsens, despite a bit of rain earlier in the week. I swear I saw some new blades of grass the other day.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikatotimes/4391588a6004.html

Check this out:

700393.jpg

Wow! Top picture is last August, second picture is 6 months on, February. Location is Scotsman Valley in central Waikato.

Forecast is for sunny weather and highs of 26-28C until Sunday/Monday when humid northerlies are hitting and will bring either rain or drizzle along with uncomfortable nights.

Waikato is now officially in the grip of a drought.

The regional council yesterday declared the region a drought zone.

It is now officially the driest summer the Waikato has experienced since records began more than 100 years ago - and the first time ever such action has been taken.

Environment Waikato is urging all communities to conserve waterand plan for weeks more of dry weather.

Dairy farmers are the hardest hit, but the lack of rain is being felt by all - from horticulturists to small block owners and gardeners.

Environment Waikato chairman Peter Buckley, who also owns a 68-hectare dairy farm in North Waikato said he never thought he'd see the day.

"I've lived and farmed around here for 56 years and I've never seen it like this 1973/74 was pretty bad as was 1997/98 but nothing like this."

Ngarua dairy farmer Sue Fish said the situation was dire.

"There's nothing you can do, you're probably eating into supplements you would normally have fed (to animals) in autumn."

"It's a case of monitoring it from day to day, watching cow condition, and trying to make moves that will get you through it," said Mrs Fish.

She advised younger farmers who had not previously experienced current conditions to "hang in there, and talk to your bank manager".

Otorohanga dairy farmer Tony Van Grootel said the unrelenting dry conditions were getting pretty tough.

"I've just bought in 50 bails of silage, and it's getting pretty expensive. It's costing $100 a bail landed on the farm. A lot of the neighbours are in the same situation."

Mr van Grootel said if substantial rain did arrive, farmers would still need a month's worth of supplementary feed while grass grew back. If substantial rain did not arrive, he would begin drying off his cows. Low producing cows would also be likely to be culled. His stock had already begun to drop body weight due to the lack of pasture.

Matamata orchardist Stewart Broomhall said he agreed with Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton, who visited the Waikato this week, that the region was the brownest he had ever seen it in nearly 30 years.

"It's a long time between drinks, isn't it?

His orchard wasn't showing the effects of the drought to any great extent, but he feared a big dump of rain could affect the quality of fruit on royal gala apple trees, with fruit splitting near the stem.

Strawberries had also stopped abruptly because of the lack of water, he said.

Wearing his EW hat, Mr Buckley said the regional council's role was largely an advisory one at this stage.

"We will help people where we can, but one of the main areas for us is controlling water flows around the region. In a lot of places they are at dangerous and record lows. A lot of water inlets are getting stretched.

"We need people in the country areas and the city to use water a lot more conservatively."

By declaring the drought Mr Buckley hoped central Government would start to pay more attetnion to the region's plight. .

He said the Hauraki Plains, Matamata-Piako district and parts of Waipa were among the hardest-hit areas.

"We need steady rain over a number of weeks to get back to normal. We really are in the laps of the Gods now."

A drought response group has been set up and includes representatives of Dairy NZ, Environment Waikato, Federated Farmers, Meat and Wool, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), and the Rural Support Trust. The group's role is to ensure co-ordination of information and action and to represent the Waikato region at national level.

Rural Support Trust chairman Neil Bateup said the farming community should be pro-active about planning for the next couple of months.

"The lessons that we've learnt from areas like the East Coast are that the people who acknowledge that there is a problem are the ones that come out the other side better."

A national drought meeting of government officials and sector leaders is scheduled in Wellington on Tuesday.

*To contact the Rural Support Trust, call 0800 787 254 or 0800 RURAL HELP

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