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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Weather event

People talk about weather all the time, and especially when a big storm hits. When a storm has unexpected ferocity, that talk takes off in an entirely different direction. One result from the storm that stuck Auckland last night is a lot of questions.

A strong storm was predicted due to a particular combination of events: A major storm system roaring up the country from Antarctica, colliding with a strong Low over the Tasman. The resulting storm smashed into Auckland, which was hit far harder than either Northland to the north or Waikato to the south.

At its peak, the storm packed wind gusts of up to 213 kph (about 132 mph). Wind speeds were equivalent to a category 2 tropical cyclone, which is stronger than any actual cyclone that’s hit Auckland in ages. And hardly anyone had any clue it was going to be that bad.

The reason Aucklanders were caught so unaware is that warnings weren’t strong enough. Weather reports on the evening news warned of a storm, but there was no sense of urgency or warnings to, for example, secure outdoor furniture or to watch out for falling trees and power lines. Met Service and Weather Watch were warning people on social media, but, it has been alleged, Civil Defence didn’t issue any warnings, so the media didn’t, either, as Ben Ross said on Twitter:

Civil Defence, of course, defended itself, suggesting that plenty of warnings were issued on social media. To whom? Power was out by 9pm at our house, and was intermittent for an hour or so before that. I seldom use Twitter anymore, and I saw nothing on Facebook, so the odds of me seeing any warning on social media were slim to none. What about people who don’t use social media at all?

The storm was the fiercest I’ve ever been in, including when tornado-bearing storms hit when I lived in Illinois. There were times I was sure the roof was about to come off, and the house was creaking and groaning like an old wooden sailing ship. The power went off (and stayed off) just before 9pm, and when it went the water went, too (no power for the pumps to deliver the water to us). Naturally the power went out JUST before I was going to make myself a nice hot coffee, as the house was beginning to get cooler in the driving winds.

The power came back on at 1:56am, and I got up and turned off the lights and television before going back to bed. Apparently the power went off again and came back on just before 3am. It stayed on after that, but there are tens of thousands of homes and business in Auckland that are still without power 24 hours later, and may be without it for days.

Most of the damage, in addition to electricity infrastructure, was to bring trees down. We had two small trees flattened (photo up top). They were in an area of our property that was near a small gap between neighbours’ houses allowing the fiercest winds off the Manukau Harbour to hit the trees. At ground level, the trees looked like they were sheered off:

This probably means they weren’t the best choice for a spot where they could be subject to strong winds. Aside from that, there were small branches all over the yard, but nothing large. The largest branch was wedged between the fence and the grapefruit tree (there’s also a small branch in the grapefruit tree, on the left side (the damage to the fence was from an earlier storm):


Aside from that, the pressure of the wind pushed our front gate open, pulling out the latch. It was pushed into the latch on the fence, which meant it was in a safe spot overnight, especially since the winds were weakening by 11pm, when I discovered the gate was open as I headed to bed. We fixed that this afternoon.

Our next door neighbour has an asphalt shingle roof, and several of the shingles (which some Kiwis call “tiles”) were ripped off. We found one on our driveway, and it had been lifted and ripped off right where the shingle above it overlapped. That was all I saw in our area, apart from a couple sections of someone’s fence being knocked down. We were very lucky, especially as compared to the areas where large trees came down and caused major damage.

Another storm is heading for Auckland and Northland tomorrow evening, and it’s expected to have winds of 110kph, which is fairly typical for a bad storm—and about half as strong as the winds last night. Even so, authorities are warning that trees weakened by last night’s storm may come down tomorrow—and there could be yet more power outages. Oh, joy.

This is all happening partly because the La Niña weather system we had this past summer left ocean temperatures much warmer than usual, and that, in turn, has created stronger Lows. A warmer and rainier autumn was predicted at the start of autumn last month.

And all this comes after a summer in which we had a plague of crickets, which not only aren’t native, they’re a pest insect species. We’ve had dozens get into our house, chirping away, before they die. Then I have to vacuum up the corpses. This is waning, but still going on.

So tomorrow I’m going to do the grocery shopping I put off earlier this week because of weather. I hope to finish it and get back home before the weather closes in. Again.

And those are our weather events—for now.

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