13 Feb 2020

'Driest it has been' in some regions - meteorologist

7:39 pm on 13 February 2020

The extreme dry spell afflicting many parts of the country continues to bite with water restrictions, fire bans, and farms becoming brown, barren dust-bowls.

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Farmers from Northland to Canterbury are facing extremely dry conditions. Photo: RNZ / Liz Garton

Soil moisture deficits continue to increase across most of the North Island and the upper half of the South Island around Nelson, Marlborough and Canterbury.

While there may be some rain on the horizon next week, in the meantime those reliant on water continue to suffer.

NIWA said soil moisture levels are well down across much of the North Island.

Meteorologist Ben Noll defines North Waikato, Auckland and Northland as being in severe meteorological drought, but it does not stop there.

''A couple of other areas we are watching very closely are northern Canterbury, north of Christchurch where drought has emerged and another area of meteorological drought has now emerged in the northern part of Gisborne.''

He said soil moisture is more than 50 millimetres below normal in the upper part of the North Island.

''At least a month's worth of rain or more for many places to replenish that soil moisture that they are currently lacking.''

Noll remembers the last big dry spell, a drought in 2013.

''There are areas that are seeing soil moisture deficits, like Northland that are more severe than was the case in 2013 so certainly over they last 10-15 years this is for some regions the driest that it has been.''

Dirk Sielling who farms on the Coromandel near Whitianga has not seen his dairy farm looking as dry for at least 40 years.

''Ha, very brown and yellow and bare.''

He is having to buy in feed and water for his stock.

''Yeah you have got no choice. As a farmer you learn to live with the weather and if you don't learn to live with the weather, well then you probably shouldn't be farming. Yeah, you have got no choice - you go with the flow."

In Te Awamutu in Waikato the town is under heavy water restrictions with no outside use of water allowed.

Waipa Mayor Jim Mylchreest said a new water pipe will alleviate the situation, but that will not be ready for another 18 months.

''The community is still using about 190 litres of water per person per day so in terms of our public supply nobody has actually run out of water but that is not the case with some private supplies of course where they rely on tank water and bores.''

Fire bans cover most of the country

Most of the country is now under either a prohibited or restricted fire ban.

Fire and Emergency said hot, dry conditions have created an extreme fire risk.

Tim Mitchell from FENZ said everyone needs to be careful and take precautions to prevent a fire starting.

''Because things are so dry it will only potentially take one spark, so there is a very high risk at the moment across a large area of the country for a wild fire to start and do damage.''

All fires are prohibited across all of the North Island with the exception of Wellington which has a restricted fire season and people require a permit.

In the South Island Central Otago, Central and North Canterbury, Marlborough and Nelson have a total ban. Mid and South Canterbury and Otago are restricted and most of Southland, Fiordland and Westland have an open fire season.

Auckland is looking set to break a climate record this weekend - marking 40 consecutive days with less than 1 millimetre of rain.

The Auckland Council is helping people living in rural areas who are on tank supply.

Head of emergency management Kate Crawford said they are co-ordinating with water supply companies.

''To ensure that they are able to meet the demand and looking at alternative arrangements to ensure that we are able to supply those private operators with access to the water.''

Grape growers like dry conditions

For most people on the land, extreme dry spells are not what they want or need but not everyone is down in the dumps.

Grape growers are loving it.

Chris Howell is from Prospect Vineyard in Hawke's Bay .

''We like it dry because it makes controlling disease a lot easier. They are a very perishable crop and the heat is really good for reducing acids and building flavour, particularly in the red wine varieties.''

He said farmers and grape growers always want different weather conditions at this time of the year.

''I think farmers have had a pretty good run in the last few years so maybe it's our turn.''

The group that represents Marlborough's vineyards and wineries are getting set for a return of the tourists, now that the main road past many of their front gates is back up and running.

Dry conditions keep a lid on diseases that affect grapes, a grower says. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Some relief is likely next week with the chance of widespread rain coming from a weakening ex-tropical cyclone Uesi.

Ben Noll from NIWA said Uesi is heading for the South Island and may bring heavy rain to areas that don't need it, but all is not lost.

''That could open the door to some sub-tropical moisture that streams into the north or from the north towards New Zealand but those weather systems sometimes track to the west of New Zealand which could be good news for us if they come near the North Island.''

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