Christmas Storm 1933

A fierce southerly storm sent Christmas campers scuttling for cover in 1933 as it chased them with waterspouts, shredded their tents, stripped fruit from trees, played amongst power and telegraph lines and deposited snow on North Island mountains.

While Marlborough farmers faced ruin during the drought of 1933, their East Coast counterparts were looking at a more typical summer season. Fruit trees were laden and the warm start to the summer season had encouraged post-Christmas campers to pitch their tents in Gisborne and at coastal camping spots.

An abrupt southerly change brought gale force winds during Friday December 29th of 1933, and half of the campers at Waikanae Beach decamped for more stable locations. The 15 parties who remained were in for a rough night.

The wind continued to strengthen as night deepened, and the hardiest of campers began to doubt the wisdom of having stayed on. Some tents were shredded, and the occupants were put up in the Waikanae tea rooms while another party camped inside the engine room. Others removed their tents in the teeth of the gale and pitched them on the leeward side of the camp buildings.

At Wainui, the camping experience was similarly disrupted while a bach was demolished by the gale and another had a wall peppered with holes caused by flying debris. Wireless masts throughout the Gisborne district had guy wires snapped and were blown down.

Thinning of the district’s fruit crop had commenced, but plums, peaches and early apples were blown from trees. Losses were minimised by the thinning work, but heavily laden branches were split away from the main limbs of trees.

Electricity supplies were interrupted for periods of time, but the telephone and telegraph network sustained serious wind and tree damage. As the damage to communications mounted during Friday December 29th 1933, there were fears that the region would be isolated. An auxiliary wireless installation was prepared for operation and specially-trained wireless operators were made ready to take over the dispatch of business.

East Coast communications stood up well, but damage mounted on lines through to Opotiki and Wairoa. However, linesmen were able to get on top of the situation in appalling conditions to the south of Gisborne, and the auxiliary installation was not activated. The postmaster at Wharerata, who had lived in the area all his life, reported that the velocity of the gale was without equal in his experience.

Main roads remained open and motorists attempting to cross the Whareratas had hair-raising experiences. One vehicle lost its hood and another “gave its two passengers some thrills when it was caught by some of the stronger gusts and forced from one side of the narrow road to the other, and the thrills came more particularly when ‘the other side’ mentioned happened to be on the edge of a big drop.”

Back in Gisborne, spectacularly high seas deposited debris on Waikanae Beach, necessitating a clean-up operation. Early in the evening of Friday 29th, the Tomona rock buoy broke adrift and was later spotted playing in the surf off Waikanae Beach before it came ashore. At high tide, the waves lashed up to the beach promenade and sent showers of spray across the buildings.

Whilst it brought terrific winds, the storm brought little rain to eastern districts which was a mixed blessing for farmers. Marlborough’s drought was little relieved by the event but East Coast infrastructure was saved from flooding.

On Saturday December 30th, 1933, a fresh coating of snow was reported on some of the higher peaks on the East Coast and further south on the Ruahines. It was noted that Mt. Hikurangi had a “substantial white cap.”

Over on the western side of the North Island, south Taranaki was treated to an electrical storm of unusual severity on the night of December 29th 1933. The storm left a trail of minor damage to services and crops and power services were disrupted until midnight. Transformers fused at Patea where the storm lasted for an hour.

“Hail ranging from the size of small marbles in Hawera to the size of pigeons’ eggs in outlying districts fell over a wide area, followed by heavy rain. A whirlwind advancing from the sea tore tiles off the Hawera Hospital roof … and cut a swathe through a lucerne crop 8 ft. wide, and partly razed several trees.

Two waterspouts at sea off the Waverley beach approached rapidly, alarming campers, but eventually passed on each side of the camping reserve. The sea beneath each column was churned to fury. A terrific hail shower, accompanied by lightning and thunder, ended the spectacle.”

[source: The Poverty Bay Herald, Saturday December 30, 1933 pp 6&7. ]

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