Archive for January, 2006

Emergencies By Appointment, Please

Friday, January 6th, 2006

My favourite shift when I worked in the Wellington Transmission Centre in the 1980s was noon to six – well the weekday part, anyway. At the weekends it could be a bit grim coming in for a 7-3 Saturday and doing a VFT (voice frequency telegraph system) line-up – especially if it was a TR1104 telegraph system and the trainee hadn’t been too hot at tuning the relays!

During the week the noon to sixer ran the console in the Test Room. The console was a rather large affair, being a custom-made telephone console and wire-photo switch rolled into one. Ah yes. In them thar days, newspapers had to book wire-photo circuits so that they could transmit their footie and other snaps out to other newspapers. To reduce cost, they made use of the multi-port wire-photo system to transmit the wire photo to say Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Christchurch and other papers all at once. We are talking about pre-facsimile and pre-email days here.

The newspaper’s wire-photo machine had a rotating drum to which the subject photograph was attached. The operator could talk using the attached handset to the receiving papers via the wire photo circuit to co-ordinate the transmission and then they all switched over to receive while the transmitting newspaper started scanning the photo. Exasperation occurred if the trainee at one of the regional papers leapt back onto the phone circuit while the photo was being transmitted and announced he hadn’t done this or that. All the receiving machines would get a glitch, and the whole sequence had to be started again. From memory it took about 5 minutes to transmit a standard black & white photo.

Boy some of those press hacks could be demanding, too. They wanted the service, and they wanted it now! Booking the circuit via the toll room just didn’t cut the mustard. Once booked, one of the operators would scoot down in the lift to the second floor with a completed form, and away we’d go. Bandwidth was expensive in those days, and circuits at regional stations were manually patched from the network to the local newspaper office. A bit of a bind if the Gisborne Herald booked to receive a wire-photo at the last minute and we couldn’t get hold of the call-out Transmission tech up there to do some patching.

At Wellington Trans the console operator answered all the inward calls to the transmission centre from the dedicated ’98 lines, local trunks and orderwires. Orderwires were hard-wired voice circuits that connected transmission stations within each region to their zone centre, and zone centres to each other.

By selecting an order wire to, say, Auckland, I could speak directly to a counterpart in Auckland Transmission – the same applied to Napier, Christchurch, Palmerston North and many other stations. At a time of migration from step-by-step to crossbar switching and extensive network upgrade, the orderwires were very handy as they worked in spite of a local exchange failure or overload. They could also be patched to monitors or staff in the field and conferenced together to allow collaboration during fault investigations.

To the left of the telephone console were the station’s two alarm consoles which displayed system failures. To the right was the microwave network alarm console.

From this position, and the calls passing through his hands, the console operator had a very good overall picture of what was happening on the network at any one time. A system outage could be identified, and appropriate staff alerted.

Walking in for a noon-to-six shift was exciting. As the outer door to the landing clattered shut behind me, I’d listen for the sound coming from the Test Room. There would usually be the “pip-pip-pip-pip-pip-pip…” of the telephone console as calls were coming in, and sometimes the “ding-dong …. ding-dong …. ding-dong….” of the Toll Test Board chimes as calls were passed to technicians who were testing data and other circuits.

If I could hear these sounds and the “ka-doing, ka-doing, ka-doing….” of the station alarms as I reached for the swing-door, I knew something was up. There was an outage somewhere on the network – a cable had been cut, a device had failed, someone had plugged something in at the wrong place – it was all go.

Finally rounding the end of the consoles to take a look at the alarm displays would confirm the diagnosis. The old Creed 75 teleprinter motor would be whining away, red and orange lights would be glowing steadily, and the console operator from the 7-1 shift would be on the PA system announcing calls and events: “TER! Auckland linelink one is down.” “Anyone in VFT?” “Auckland 2 for TER.” “Ah Leg 953.” “Palmy 1 for you Bam.” “Anyone know where the Gaffer is?” “Hamilton orderwire for you Torty.” With a mobile workforce the announced calls could be picked up from dozens of locations on both floors, and many people were paged by their nicknames.

Bustle and noise would be the order of the day. The fault would be localised, a solution found and the Network Management Centre would issue instructions via the omnibus teleprinter network on ameliorative action. Slowly the red lights would go out, the noise levels would drop, and calm would return.

Seeing the action on the stock exchange floor when the market crashed in 1987, I was reminded of the transmission centre during a large outage. To an outsider it looked like pandemonium and noise, to the participants, it was controlled chaos.

And speaking of chaos. In the bottom drawer to the console operator’s left was a very special phone. Not red like the one to the Kremlin. Black. Bakelite black with a coffee grinder handle where the dial should be. In the event that “the big one” hit Wellington and everything failed, this manual phone would allow us to talk to Area um, Services in Courtenay Place about it. I saw it tested twice. Once when an inspection discovered that we had tucked it away in a drawer (still wired up) and it had to be brought back out and rewired sitting on TOP of the desk. (tsk, tsk)

And again on a quiet day, when on a whim in a quiet moment a colleague decided to turn the handle and listen. It was answered and the voice that thundered down the line didn’t need the phone for us to hear it… We should have rung the normal number first to tell them we were going to test the emergency phone! For days the thunder boomed; working its way down through the layers of bureaucracy to reprimand the impertinence!

Emergencies by appointment, please.

Geological Summary for New Zealand area, December 2005

Thursday, January 5th, 2006

Geonet, the USGS (NEIC) and IGNS reported 48 earthquakes in the New Zealand area between the Kermadec Islands in the north, and the Auckland Islands to the south during December 2005. The magnitude distributions were as follows:
M6 to 6.9 (1), M5 to 5.9 (6), M4 to 4.9 (27) M3 to 3.9 (14).
An additional 5 events in the magnitude 2 range were deemed worthy of mention.

There were 2 earthquake swarms, 2 foreshock sequences, and 2 areas of complex activity involving clusters of earthquakes and associated foreshock sequences. Two earthquakes caused minor damage in the North Island.

A complex series of deep earthquakes near the Bay of Plenty began on December 2nd with a magnitude 4.1 earthquake SSW of Rotorua at a depth of 155 km which had an associated aftershock of magnitude 4.0 on December 13th. Between the 3rd and 14th a cluster of 3 earthquakes at a depths between 220 and 300 km with magnitudes between 4.0 and 4.7 occurred about 100km NNE of Rotorua. An additional 2 events East of Rotorua at depths of 66km and 62 km with magnitudes 4.1 and 4.6 occurred on the 12th and 29th.

Simultaneously, a foreshock sequence of three earthquakes occured Northeast of Gisborne at depths between 20 and 33 km. The first event was on December 5th, magnitude 4.0 followed by a magnitude 4.1 on the 18th and the main shock of 4.4 on the 20th. A nearby earthquake of magnitude 4.3, 84 km deep occurred 140 km North of Gisborne on the 17th.

Another complex sequence of events played out along the Kermadec Islands throughout December. It started with a magnitude 4.1 event 173 km deep 390 km South of L’Esperance Rock on December 3rd. This event may have been a foreshock for a magnitude 4.8 quake at similar depth but slightly north on December 17th.

In the meantime, a cluster of 6 earthquakes 200-odd km North East of L’Esperance Rock at depths between 10 and 45 km commenced with a magnitude 6.4 event on December 7th. Other magnitudes were 4.8, 5.1, 4.8, 5.2 and the last event of magnitude 4.9 on the 19th. Two shallow events – one of mag 5.2 to the south on the 4th and one of mag 5.3 to the north-east of L’Esperance Rock on the 31st complete the sequence of 11 earthquakes in the area.

Closer to home, three further members of the swarm 10 km East of Seddon (magnitudes 3.9, 3.6 and 3.7) occurred on the 18th and 19th and a nearby event of magnitude 2.9 occurred on the 7th.

A late magnitude 2.4 member of the unusual swarm of quakes near Auckland’s Waiheke Island in November occurred on December 14th.

Two deep earthquakes occurred near Nelson – a magnitude 4.1 at 70 km depth on the 10th and a magnitude 4.3 at 180 km depth on the 31st.

Another interesting pair of earthquakes occurred near Arthur’s Pass on the 4th and 8th being magnitude 3.6 and 3.5 and very shallow. Similar small earthquakes have occurred nearby during 2005.

A pair of earthquakes offshore at Castlepoint on the 23rd at 30 km depth were magnitude 4.2 and 3.6.

The next day another pair of offshore earthquakes further north (30 km East of Porangahau) at 12 km depth were magnitude 4.2 and 4.0 occurring 12 minutes apart on Christmas Eve.

The first of the damaging earthquakes was a magnitude 5.0 event 25 km deep between Pahiatua and Pongaroa early on December 13th. It appears to have had only 1 reported aftershock of magnitude 3.9 on the 17th. The main quake threw items from shelves in some parts of Manawatu and Wairarapa.

The second damaging earthquake was a magnitude 4.5 event 30 km deep near Porirua on the evening of the same day. Reports of items thrown from shelves came from many parts of the Wellington region, with the greatest effect being felt at nearby Titahi Bay. More information on this particular tremor can be found under “Earthquakes – Observations.” No aftershocks have been reported.

Vulcanologists report the nation’s volcanoes to be little changed from last month. Their status can be summarised as follows:
Mt Ruapehu (Alert Level 1).
White Island (Alert Level 1).
Mt Tongariro (Alert Level 0).

At Mt Ruapehu, seismic activity remained low throughout the month, with the crater lake at a warm 39 degrees C and the water level below the base of the tephra dam.

At White Island seismic activity remained low, with the crater lake levels dropping during the first part of the month. Toward month’s end, rain caused the lake to rise slightly to about 0.9 metres below overflow.

The frequent small earthquakes which recently started at Mt Tongariro continued throughout the month. On December 3rd, an alert bulletin was issued when a magnitude 2.4 earthquake on the mountain triggered an additional series of small earthquakes. It was suspected that the earthquake had increased pressure within the volcano’s hydrothermal system and vulcanologists expected the activity to wane over time as had been seen at similar sites in the world. This has indeed been the case, as the additional activity died away after a few days.

Wellington’s Reputation Safe

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

Wellington’s reputation as a windy place may have seemed under threat in recent months with many calm, still and warm days. However, recent windy weather which has affected large areas of the country has restored the reputation of “Windy Welly.”

Monday’s forecast northerly gales were strong, but not excessively so. The winds performed a useful maintenance role by loosening dead branches and twigs for gardeners to collect, and only minor damage occurred.

Tuesday’s forecast severe gales, started the same way, with some strong gusts in the afternoon. It wasn’t until early this morning, that activity moved up a notch for those of us to the northwest of Wellington.

Peak gusts recorded overnight Tuesday/Wednesday were:
Tawa (slightly sheltered site) 49.6 km/h from the North at 0132
Mana 81.2 km/h from the Northwest at 0140
Whitby 85.1 km/h from the Northwest at 0046

Elsewhere in the region, there are reports of gusts up 165 km/h at Mt Kaukau and 120 km/h in Wellington. The winds caused tree and shrub damage and the Fire Service had a moderately busy time securing rooves, and some smaller structures such as sheds sustained wind damage.

We now await the forecast southerly change (with possible thunderstorms) for this afternoon before the winds change back to northerly gales. Windy Welly is back! 🙂

Major Earthquake Near Fiji and Tonga

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006

A major earthquake occurred in the Fiji region late this morning. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has NOT issued a warning, based on historical data of previous events.

Preliminary data from USGS indicates that the magnitude 7.1 earthquake occurred at 11:13 a.m. NZ Daylight Time. It was 580 km deep with an epicentre 400 km ESE of Suva, Fiji (1995 km NNE of Auckland).

A similar strong earthquake occurred in this region on December 13th, 2005. It was magnitude 6.7, 37 km deep and located between Fiji and Wallis and Futuna (2475 km NNE of Auckland).

The earthquake showed strong traces on New Zealand seismographs operated by Geonet.

Suburban Rail Service 100 Years Ago

Monday, January 2nd, 2006

Pat Lawlor, in his book “More Wellington Days” describes a steam train trip from Wellington to Plimmerton in 1906 that took nearly 2 hours. Nowadays, the electric units do that trip in 30 minutes, stopping at nine other stations en route.

Lawlor’s trip was on one of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company’s steam trains, on a private railway built between 1879 and 1886. David Leitch and Brian Scott in “Exploring New Zealand’s Ghost Railways” say that the tortuous line provided effective competition to New Zealand Railways, until the government acquired the track and rolling stock in 1908. At that time, the trains from Wellington followed a route north through Ngaio, Khandallah, Johnsonville and Tawa Flat. A more direct route via the Glenside tunnels was opened in 1935 and the section of railway between Tawa and Johnsonville became one of our many ghost railways.

But back to Lawlor’s recollections. He mentions that Earl McKenzie (known in rugby and press circles) related amusing stories of his time using the old railway. When McKenzie lived at Plimmerton, the driver got to know him and would give three impatient toots if he were not on the station; but even so would give another toot of welcome when Earl made a belated appearance.

“Once they had been to a party on the Sunday. When the train arrived next morning and there was no response to the warning toots, the driver hopped off the engine, ran over the line to where he knew Earl was living and shouted through the window, ‘If you don’t get a move on I’ll go without you.'”

Those were the days…… 🙂

December 2005 warmer, drier than previous two years

Sunday, January 1st, 2006

With the proliferation of automatic weather stations, manual weather recordings for Tawa will cease at year’s end. Summaries of the readings taken over the 3 years to 2005 will be progressively published to provide background data for the recently installed automatic weather station.

These manual readings are obviously subjective, and represent the microclimate where the observations were made. However, gardeners might find the data of use in understanding germination, flowering and other crop problems.

Tawa’s climate during December 2005 was warmer, drier but foggier than the previous two years.

Readings taken at Tawa:
The lowest December temperatures were 8 (2003), 6 (2004) and 9 (2005).
The average daily low temperatures were 14 (2003), 11 (2004) and 15 (2005).
The highest December temperatures were 24 (2003), 26 (2004) and 27 (2005).
The average daily high temperatures were 21 (2003), 19 (2004) and 24 (2005).

Days with frost: none in any of the three years.
Days with rain: 16 (2003), 15 (2004), 13 (2005).
Days with thunderstorms: 1 (2003), 1 (2005).
Days with hail: none in any of the three years.
Days with strong winds: 8 (2003), 8 (2004), 10 (2005).
Days with fog: 2 (2003), 4 (2005)

No flood events were recorded in any of the three December months between 2003 and 2005.

December 2003 was notable for high wind events on several days. Strong nor’easters on the 6th were followed by a period of calm drizzly weather which lasted until the 12th when fog set in, lasting through the 13th until driven off by gusty nor’easters on the morning of the 14th. Sunny, calm conditions set in and temperatures began rising until the 20th when Tawa and the Wellington region were battered by northerly gales which caused significant tree and shrub damage.

Strong winds from all northerly quarters continued on the 21st December 2003, and temperatures declined to the low teens on the 23rd and 24th before recovering slightly. Christmas Day was dry with warm gusty nor’westers which changed to the north east and increased to gale force on the 26th. The 28th was a wild, windy day, with intermittent downpours, thunder and lightning, and house gutters overflowed several times between 0530 and 0700. The northerly conditions eased but then swung abruptly to the south on the 30th bringing cool damp conditions.

December 2004 started calmly with the temperature reaching an encouraging 22 degrees on the 1st – the thermometer would not return to the twenties again for another week. Drizzly, misty, low-cloud conditions prevailed on the 2nd before a strong northerly arose for most of the morning of the 3rd. Calmer conditions, with the thermometer only reaching the mid-teens, then set in. Late on the 5th, a southerly gale sent temperatures plunging into single digits, and Tawa residents resurrected their heaters which had been carefully packed away for the summer.

Sunny conditions then sent the temperatures slowly rising until the 8th when the thermometer finally reached 21 degrees followed by misty showery weather. The 10th was a dismal day with damp conditions and the temperature hovering near 8 degrees until late morning. This scenario was repeated on the 11th and 12th but the temperature slowly rose toward the late teens on both days.

Northerly gales on the 13th December 2004 were accompanied by a sickly yellow dusk. Conditions improved until the early morning of the 16th when a downpour caused gutters to overflow. This was followed by strong westerly winds on the 17th which changed to strong southerlies late on the 18th and temperatures again plunged to single digits. Once again, Tawa residents reached for their heaters as the temperature hung around 8 degrees before finally reaching 15 mid-afternoon on the 19th.

Calm cool conditions then prevailed until the 27th when temperatures again broke through the 20 degree barrier. This period was punctuated by strong northerlies on the 23rd and strong nor’westers on the 26th, and a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in the Southern Ocean west of the Auckland Islands on Christmas Eve. Conditions then eased to warmer calmer weather until the month’s end.

December 2005 was notable for a return to more typical weather patterns seen in the 1990s. Still, warm weather applied on the 1st until a gusty northerly arose mid-afternoon on the 2nd. These conditions applied until the wind eased early on the 4th. Later in the day, the northerlies returned with renewed vigour and rain set in.

On the 6th, a spectacular thunderstorm dominated the workday which had started brightly. Light levels plunged from 0830 until gloomy conditions heralded the arrival of the thunderstorm at 0900. Stranded commuters were treated to nature’s pyrotechnics amid heavy rain and gusty winds from west, north and easterly quarters. A major truck accident on Wellington’s urban motorway added to the woes and many commuters did not get to work until late morning. (See “Summer Storm” article under Weather Observations).

Still conditions returned until late morning on the 8th when gusty northerlies arose. Drizzle and low cloud then moved in, and fog dominated the Tawa Valley overnight on the 9th and 10th, finally clearing mid-afternoon. Still conditions returned until the 20th with fog closing Wellington International Airport for the morning of the 13th, and causing Tawa’s hills to disappear. Fog again made its presence felt on the 18th.

Gusty northerlies arose on the 20th and dominated until late the following day when still conditions again returned. Light breezes occurred intermittently until a gusty northerly again rose on the 30th. Temperatures throughout the month steadily improved, reaching a daytime maximum of 26 on the 13th, followed by 4 days when the thermometer reached 27 degrees. Daily maximums eased back into the low 20s between the 20th and 26th before again rising.