Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Storms and storms to come

This past weekend, Auckland was hit with unprecedented rain. So far, Auckland has endured more than 800% of its normal January rainfall (about 55mm of rain): This January dumped 454mm—so far. Put another way, over the past 40 days, Auckland received 41% of the amount of rain it would normally get over an entire year. On Friday alone, the city received three times the amount of rain as it normally receives in the entire month of January—and most of that fell in a couple hours. The resulting flooding was deadly: Four people lost their lives. And at the moment, a new heavy rain system is on the way.

At least 5000 Auckland properties needed to assessed for flood or landslide damage, and when I checked earlier today, more than 200 houses and buildings had been red-stickered, which means no entry, and they cannot be used. Some early estimates where that this could be the costliest weather-related disaster in New Zealand history, and the second most costly overall (after the Christchurch earthquake). [Related: ”In photos: Auckland devastated by flooding, slips”, and the Stuff video above]

Community organisations have begun distributing things people need—chiefly food, clothing, personal supplies—and a relief fund is being set-up by Auckland Council to help communities in need. There will be more of all that.

While the focus has been on recovery, a new storm system is approaching. Northland has already declared a state of emergency, and a red rain warning has been issued for that region, the northern parts of Auckland, Coromandel, and the Bay of Plenty. All of those areas were affected a couple weeks ago by ex-Cyclone Hale, and the storm over the past weekend. The storm system over the next couple days will only make things worse because the hardest hit areas aren’t getting a chance to dry out between storms; sodden ground could mean more flooding than the amount of rain would normally cause. In other words, a very worrying time for people in the affected areas.

In light of all this, it feels shallow to mention this, but people who know me personally—or even just read this blog—will want to know: I’m fine, and while there’s been some surface flooding in Hamilton, and hasn’t been very serious. To the north, east, and south of us, there’s been a lot more flooding, but the winds and weather patterns spared us. We did get a lot of rain—far more than we got from Cyclone Hale—but it was nothing like what Auckland got. We were very, very fortunate.

The weekend’s storm had me very worried about all the folks I know in Auckland, of course. It was surreal to read the live reports and to see video images of places I know. Two of the people who drowned in the storm died in an area of the North Shore called the Wairau Valley, and I knew exactly where they were talking about because Nigel and I spent a lot of time in that area over the years. I can’t recall anything like that happening in my entire lifetime.

There’s been a LOT of criticism of the communications from Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (responsible mostly for state highways), and, especially, the city’s Mayor, Wayne Brown. Here’s just some of the critical reporting:
There’s no dispute that official communication to desperate, frightened Aucklanders was non-existent for much of the evening. The only reliable information came from some Auckland Councillors (Richard Hills being a stellar example), local Members of Parliament, Auckland Local Board Members, and the news media. The Mayor and all official channels were silent until late in the evening. Whether Brown is uniquely and personally responsible is something that will be determined over time, but so far he at least seems to be trying to appear to be engaged—now—and that’s a good first step, but I suspect his massive ego and notoriously prickly personality will cause more trouble in the future.

A more immediate governmental impact is that today Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced his cabinet reshuffle, and as part of that, the prime minister announced that MP Michael Wood will become Minster for Auckland. “The floods occurred right at the time when reshuffle was right at the front of my mind,” Hipkins said. He also noted that, “When Auckland succeeds, the country succeeds. I know that the last few years have been particularly tough for the City of Sails.” The position didn't currently exist, but it has in the past.

This has been a challenging time for Auckland and the entire northern part of the North Island. With a third of New Zealand’s population living in Auckland, disasters in the city and region affect the entire country. Thanks to the worsening storms caused by climate change, this is only the beginning of bad times. We'll all be watching to see how the city and country adapt.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

It was on the CBS Saturday Morning news, so it MUST have been significant.
Flooding in California, in wave after wave, and much of the water went back into the Pacific. We collectively are not prepared for these extraordinary events that just might become common.