Another 'solid month' of rain needed to ease Auckland drought - forecaster

Last night's heavy rain over Auckland will have to continue for a "solid month" to get the parched city's water levels back to where they should be.

Up to 25mm fell in parts of the city overnight, helping ease the shortage. Usually at this time of year, the city's storage lakes are 82.8 percent full - on Wednesday they were at 57.4 percent, after the harshest drought in decades? 

"That's a small drop in the bucket for a large water shortage, but it's a step in the right direction," NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll told The AM Show on Thursday.

"We've seen near-normal rainfall so far this winter - the expectation over the next three months is for near-normal rainfall. But I think many folks - certainly the dams - would be hoping for above-normal rainfall." 

The lack of rain earlier this year sent dam levels below 50 percent for the first time since the early 1990s. They hit their lowest point in mid-April before the "near-normal" rainfall kicked in. 

"The weather that we're experiencing outside today I would say probably would have to go on for a solid month to get us to where we need to be this time of year," said Noll.

"Don't count one rain event and think the drought is over, right? It's a gloomy walk to work and your umbrella might blow inside out, but that does not mean the impact of one of the worst droughts we've experienced is over." 

He's pinning hopes on a La Niña climate system forming later this year. During a La Niña, there are more winds from the northeast, bringing rain and moisture to the north and northeast of the North Island. 

"So from Northland through to Auckland, down across the Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay - those types of areas. As we go later into 2020, that's a possibility." 

According to US climate scientific agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there's currently a 50 to 55 percent chance of a La Niña this summer.

Some in Northland might not want much more rain after last night however. Kerikeri had 126mm in just 24 hours, and there were wind gusts up to 120km/h on the eastern side. But like Auckland, the region needs all it can get.

"Some paddocks are probably already turning into mud," said Noll. "So while the meteorological drought certainly has ended, the impact a drought has carries on - especially for the waterways. Those river flows, stream flows and dam levels are the last things to come back to normal. 

"So while things may look very moist and plush out there, there is still the impact of the two driest consecutive years - 2019 and 2020." 

Fire and Emergency attended 30 calls between Auckland and Kaeo, north of Kerikeri, late Wednesday night - mostly for trees down blocking roads, and a few downed powerlines too. 

"It's all over, basically," said spokesperson Craig Dalley - at least for the Far North.

"The wind and rain is moving southwards," said MetService forecaster Cameron Coutts. "We've got warnings still current for Auckland for rain and wind, and as well as Waikato near the Kaimai Ranges, and Coromandel and Great Barrier. Later tonight we've got a heavy rain watch for the ranges of Gisborne." 

The good news is that it's not been too cold. 

"It's actually been relatively mild up in Northland - temperatures are 6C to 8C above average for this time of year overnight," said Coutts. "That's one good thing - it's been quite a warmish sort of flow. But it's definitely colder further south in the lower parts of the North Island and South Island."