1 Sep 2015

Yes, that really was a hard winter

12:54 pm on 1 September 2015

Today marks the first official day of spring, after a winter that seemed relentlessly cold, wet and miserable. But was it really that bad? And how long until we can break out the jandals and barbecues?

no caption

It was a winter of particularly bad weather and particuarly high rates of flu. Photo: Supplied

In an early campaign to bring over European settlers, potential punters were told that it never rained in New Zealand. On further questioning ("But how does the bounteous stone fruit grow?"), the party line was readjusted only very slightly: in the Land of the Long White Cloud, it only rains at night.

This winter, it certainly did rain at night - but it rained during the day, too, and in the morning, and in the evening. When it was wet, it was very very wet, and when it wasn't wet, it was cold.

MetService meteorologist Georgina Griffiths confirmed the winter was unusually tough.

"No, it's not your imagination. We haven't had a winter like this in over five years," she said.

A stormy June saw rainfall way above average, climbing to over 150 percent of 'normal rainfall' for the Manawatu-Whanganui, Taranaki, Westland, Tasman, Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland regions.

And the floodgates were wide open across much of the country. Whanganui experienced the worst flooding the city had ever seen, while once-in-a-century flooding in Dunedin saw the city council face a deluge of requests for help from families forced out of their homes, after two months' worth of rain fell in just under 24 hours.

While it was, on average, no colder than normal, there was an icy polar outbreak in late June, that lead to the fourth lowest temperature ever recorded in New Zealand, in the Mackenzie Country, and the coldest temperatures in the country in over 20 years. Brrr.

Cows eating a snow dusted crop in Southland.

Cows eating snow-dusted crops in Southland. Photo: SUPPLIED / Katrina Thomas

Turning the calendar page into July, the downpours slowed, with rainfall below normal in almost all of New Zealand's regions, bar Auckland, with South Canterbury, North Otago and Central Otago struck by drought. But though umbrellas weren't as crucial, it was woolly jumper time instead, with temperatures dropping below average across the North Island, South Canterbury and North Otago.

August saw the drought persisting across Canterbury and Otago. A great dump of snow closed the Desert Road and saw skiers flocking to Mt Ruapehu, while from Canterbury to Southland, cows and crops were dusted with a heavy sprinkling.

Way down in the Chathams, there was snowfall to near sea level for the first time in 45 years. The month came to a damp end, with heavy rain hitting the east of the country, in both the North and South Islands.

10cm of fresh snow overnight cover the Chateau Tongariro.

The Chateau Tongariro Hotel on Mount Ruapehu Photo: Supplied

But many New Zealanders only noticed the inclement weather from their bedroom windows - a twin flu strain saw thousands of workers calling in sick. If the A-strain didn't hit you, chances are the B-strain did - and if you were really unlucky, you might have got both at once. Consultation levels hit highs not seen over the previous few winters and last experienced in 2010 and 2012. At the flu season's peak, 487 people visited their GPs in a single week for influenza-related illnesses.

South Canterbury, already buckled by drought, had epidemic levels of flu in mid-August, while residents of Whanganui and the neighbouring Mid-Central District were also struck hard by the bug.

Flu rates only began to drop back down at the end of last week. This prolonged period of sickness led Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to extend free flu jabs for at-risk groups by an extra two weeks through to 11 September.

While tissue sales are returning to normal and thermometers heading back into bathroom cabinets for another year, the bad weather might well be here to stay. The odds could be better: NIWA weather forecaster Chris Brandolino said there was about a 95 percent chance of intense El Nino weather persisting into spring and summer.

Ms Griffiths put it even more succinctly. "For New Zealand, it's quite simple: cool winter, cold and stormy spring."

Not quite time to dust off the jandals yet, then.

  • Heavy rain to hit this week
  • Ferry passengers injured during wild weather