Almost, But Not Quite

Tawa came close to experiencing snow for the first time in a few years yesterday. But a bouncing thermometer kept it at bay.

Conditions seemed right for a snowfall in Tawa on Saturday the 9th of August 2008 – a strong, cold southerly, low temperatures and plenty of moisture in the air.

While Canterbury got its third snowfall this winter, it was thought that the southerly and its fronts might bring snow to around 300 metres in the Wellington area, low enough to leave a dusting on the hills and for residents at lower levels to enjoy the spectacle of snow showers.

It tried hard, and reports of snow showers came in from Papakowhai and Upper Hutt, and the Rimutaka Hill Road was closed by a good cover of snow. But Tawa missed out, it seems.

Between 10 and 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, the distinct “hissing” sound of sleet passing through the trees could be heard. At the time several tui and blackbirds were scrapping over some tasty winter berries, but the sleet showers were not to their liking at all. They all flew off into the conifers where they hunkered down under cover, glaring at each other. Normally tui like to lark about in misty rain, but the heaviness and chill of sleet did not fit the bill.

The temperature then clawed its way up from 5 °C to 8 °C and the sun made brief appearances. However, by early afternoon, more squalls came through bringing the hope that a bit of snow might be spotted on Colonial Knob – at 459 m (1506 ft), the highest point easily seen from Tawa.

By 4 p.m. the temperature had again taken a dive and more sleet showers hissed into local gardens. Some areas probably experienced brief snow showers, but it would not have lingered on the ground.

Overnight, the temperature dropped to 1.3 °C but, even after a bleak day, this wasn’t cold enough to set a new low for the winter. The coldest temperature recorded at Tawa this winter was 0.7 °C at 5:19 a.m. on the 25th of June. Even the chilling effect provided by yesterday’s biting southerly couldn’t set a new low. Yesterday’s 0.7 °C wind chill temperature recorded at 6:25 p.m. last night was just above the 0.2 °C recorded at 6:43 a.m. on the 6th of July.

The coldest day measure (which covers the period 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) shows that Saturday the 9th of August did set the record for the year at 6.1 °C, only just eclipsing the earlier coldest day of 6.2 °C on the 7th of July. The coldest night measurement (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) recorded overnight was 4.4 °C, a little warmer than the 2.7 °C recorded on the 7th of July.

The winter of 2007 still holds most of the low temperature records for the Tawa Weather station, but this only applies since 2005 when the station was commissioned. Meteorologists tell us that we can expect more low pressure systems to add excitement to our weather during August, which could make for an abrupt transition to spring.

If this is so, then Tawa’s temperature records could be in for a tweak. The coldest temperature recorded since 2005 was set on the 7th of September 2007 when 0.0 °C was recorded. And, if another southerly blast comes our way, we may find the record low windchill temperature of -1.1 °C recorded on the 24th of April 2005 gets toppled.

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