Dry Trend Continues Into June 2007

After several days of cold wind from the southerly quarter, the first frost of the winter season settled on the hills above Tawa this morning. Local birds declined the opportunity to take an early morning skate on the frozen birdbath and stayed warmly tucked-up in their nests with their electric blankets on full.

The chill follows a mild autumn, drought on the East Coast of the North Island and hydro lake levels sitting at below-average levels.

Gentle rain during the early part of June has been welcomed by the drought-beleaguered farmers in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, but some patches have remained dry. The recent cold snap came at the wrong time, dramatically slowing pasture growth that might have partially recovered in time for winter. While many farmers have reduced stock levels through the recent record stock sales, the poor state of East Coast pasture has potential impacts for stock feed and increases concern over soil erosion during heavier winter rains.

The rain has slightly replenished Gisborne’s water supply dams that, until recently, held less than two months’ supply for the city. It’s interesting to note that Gisborne has always struggled to find an adequate water supply as its population increased, and shortages have been a regular worry for over 100 years. The latest near-crisis reminds me of the “Harry’s Water” days of the 1960s when silty water from the muddy bottom of the dam at Mangapoike sometimes meant that kids emerged from the bath looking muddier than when they went in. Mind you, we never quite got to the crisis level of March 1948 when two pumps were installed alongside the Matawhero bridge to pump water from the Waipaoa River into Gisborne’s town mains. J.A. Mackay tells us that, “On the day before pumping was to have begun the awkward position was relieved by soaking rains.” Whew! Nothing worse than turning the tap on and being greeted by a puff of dust!

Tawa weather data for the first 15 days of June shows that the dry trend has continued here, with only 11 mm of rain recorded compared with 46 mm during the same period last year and 23 mm in 2005. Apart from a near-frost on the mornings of the 4th and 10th, temperatures have been milder with calm conditions on several days. Temperatures were sent plunging with the arrival of the southerly on the 15th.

This will have put paid to the flush of growth that Tawa gardeners reported during the early part of June. Winter crops of lupins and mustard were well-ahead of normal, but will no doubt slow down to be ready for an early turning-in as spring approaches.

The nation’s hydro lakes started June 2007 at 2418 GWh, 84% of average for the time of year. Levels had declined slightly to 2316 GWh (83 % of average) on the 15th. Daily inflows were above average during first week of June 2007, but remained below average during the second. Inflows were highly variable during the period, ranging between 238% and 61 % of average. South-to-north energy transfers via the Cook Strait cables exceeded N-S transfers on 13 out of 15 days.

The birds? The weak wintry sun encouraged them to finally drag themselves out of bed in search of foolish worms hoping to put the finishing touches to their late summer suntan. A dust-up between a couple of tui perking the last of the native berries livened up the view outside the dining room near the middle of the day. But otherwise they seem a lot less active than a week ago when they were happily tearing up the lawn in large gatherings. I can’t blame them. The snores of the hedgehogs happily hibernating away the colder months makes me wonder if I’m missing something….

[Sources: J.A. Mackay, “Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.,” second edition, 1982; hydro lake data from M-Co; sauce and whimsy from the author.]

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