February 2005 warmer, drier than previous two years

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 February 2005 was warmer, calmer and drier than the previous two years. February is normally our best summer month, and residents saw a welcome return to normal weather patterns after labelling 2004 as “the year without a summer.”

The maximum temperature was 30 or more degrees on 3 days early in the month, and rain fell on only 5. Wind was conspicuously absent and strong gusts were recorded on only 3 days. “Earthquake weather” as it used to be called by my elders when I was growing up on the East Coast. But mother nature was feeling benevolent, and the only event of note (apart from the nice warm days) was a magnitude 5.4 earthquake off the coast near Martinborough at 06:31 on February 1st which brought an end to two swarms of earthquakes which had plagued the region during January.

The seismic action moved north to the Bay of Plenty where two earthquake swarms, one near Kawerau the other near Matata began to play out. The Matata sequence of over 55 earthquakes would run until August, and become associated with local devastating floods – but that is outside the scope of this summary.

A summary of Tawa’s weather data for the three years is as follows:
The lowest February temperatures were 5 (2003), 6 (2004) and 9 (2005).
The average daily low temperatures were 13 (2003), 14 (2004) and 16 (2005).
The highest February temperatures were 28 (2003), 23 (2004) and 32 (2005).
The average daily high temperatures were 22 (2003), 20 (2004) and 24 (2005).

Days with frost: none (2003), none (2004), none (2005).
Days with rain: 6 (2003), 19 (2004), 5 (2005).
Days with thunderstorms: none (2003), 1 (2004), none (2005).
Days with hail: none (2003), none (2004), none (2005).
Days with strong winds: 6 (2003), 7 (2004), 3 (2005).

In keeping with the “year without a summer” label, February 2004 was host to two flood events. A foretaste of what was to come began on February 1st with steady rain by dawn. This soon escalated to heavy downpours and reports of surface flooding around the region began to come in by dusk. The weather then eased to drizzly, cloudy conditions with temperatures barely reaching into the 20s.

A severe weather warning was issued on Friday 13th February 2004 and the lower North Island braced itself. Gusty northerlies abruptly changed to the south at 5:30 p.m. and the rain commenced in earnest. The southerly rose to gale force and misty rain punctuated with downpours continued through Saturday 14th. Emergency services at Tawa were busy with lifting rooves and minor flooding events throughout the day.

The wind then rose to severe gale and the rain fell steadily on Sunday 15th. Whilst local emergency services continued their efforts, their counterparts further north in the Manawatu region were rushed off their feet. The town of Feilding was hardest hit by flooding and storm damage.

The storm conditions continued overnight Sunday – a night punctuated by the sound of mysterious objects being blown about and clanking roofing iron. The fire siren sounded several times – perhaps the volunteers were so tired that they were sleeping through their pager alerts. By Monday morning several local emergencies had been declared in the lower North Island, and many people had been evacuated.

In Tawa rooves had been lifted, trees were down, and surface flooding and several minor slips had blocked roads. The council became concerned that the Keneperu Stream might burst its banks – probably near Linden – for the first time since the Glenside flood protection scheme had been installed in the 1980s. Train and bus services were cancelled, and police asked commuters to delay their trips until after 10 a.m.

Further afield, the Hutt Valley was isolated from Wellington, hampering the evacuation of people from flooded homes. Further north there were evacuations at Feilding, Tangimoana, and Foxton Beach with many roads closed. Stop banks had been breached and the massive Moutoa Floodway had been activated to drain water from farmland and the Manawatu River out into the Tasman Sea north of Waitarere Beach, near Foxton. Damage estimates were put at $50 million. The Manawatu Gorge road would not re-open for months.

On Tuesday 17th, conditions eased at Tawa and the wind swung to the north. The situation further north was not so rosy. Flooding and storm damage continued to cause problems as far north as South Taranaki, the town of Scotts Ferry was underwater and the settlements of Tangimoana and Foxton Beach remained evacuated, damage estimates rose above $100 million and searches for missing people were being carried out.

On Thursday February 19th, another storm warning was issued. By dusk the northerly wind was gusting to gale force and steady rain was falling, growing heavier as a series of thunderstorms rolled in. For two hours the storms raged overhead, with lightning and instantaneous thunderclaps rattling glasses, crockery, doors and venetian blinds (I’m not kidding!). Gutters overflowed and surface flooding rapidly developed.
Conditions eased toward midnight.

Friday the 20th dawned fine with blustery northerlies, and wise residents who had heard yet another severe weather warning being issued took evasive action by clearing blocked gutters and drains, downed trees and slumped banks.

By 8 a.m. on Saturday the 20th winds were already gusting from the north. The wind abruptly rose to gale force at 9:15 accompanied by drizzly rain. Gusts up to 135 km/h were recorded around the middle of the day. At 4 p.m. the winds increased even further, and police were warning people to stay indoors as streets became blocked by fallen trees and power lines. By 6 p.m. a gust of 180 km/h had been reported at Mt Kaukau 10 km to the south of Tawa, and 20,000 people were without power. Many roads were closed, including State Highway 1 at Johnsonville.

Storm conditions eased during the evening, and rainfall did not reach the predicted 30mm feared with already sodden soils. So much for February 2004 – usually our brightest summer month. It really was “the year without a summer.”

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