Cyclone Gabrielle: New Zealand prepares for storm to hit, Auckland deploys army, search and rescue specialists

New Zealand is preparing for what has been dubbed one of the most serious storm forecasts this century, as tropical Cyclone Gabrielle is days away from hitting.

The cyclone heading towards our shores has been upgraded to a severe category three storm and is predicted to hit Sunday, starting north and spreading to a wider region early next week. The most severe impacts are expected on Monday and Tuesday.

"This could be a widespread and significant weather event for central and northern parts of New Zealand. The severity of the weather and the areas affected is highly dependent on the track of Cyclone Gabrielle," MetService said.

Auckland has deployed the army and over 30 specialist search and rescue workers deployed as it braces for the impacts just two weeks after devastating flooding in the region that killed four people.

Auckland and the Coromandel's local states of emergency have been extended for another week.

MetService weather watches have begun to spread further down the country as forecasters begin gain a better idea of Cyclone Gabrielle's potentially destructive path.

In a tweet, MetService said many of the watches remain orange "for now", but said more areas could be added and others upgraded.

MetSerivce has explained how much rain is required for it to be classed as 'heavy' rain. It said any rain over 6mm per hour is classed as 'heavy'.

"Our warning criteria is 100mm in 24 hours over a widespread area," it said in a tweet.

"24 hours of steady heavy rain give 144mm."

It added Gabrielle is expected to bring 24-hour rain totals of 300mm or more to some regions in Aotearoa.

"Severe tropical cyclone" 

A post on the Queensland Bureau of Meteorology's Twitter page said Cyclone Gabrielle is now at category three intensity as it heads towards Norfolk Island.

Category three is a "severe tropical cyclone"  and can produce destructive winds of 165-224 km/h. 

The latest models show the cyclone is still tracking towards northern New Zealand, however, some models show a slight shift eastwards, WeatherWatch said.

Modelling posted by NIWA showed Northland, Auckland, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and Hawke's Bay are likely to be exposed to the worst weather.

Hauraki Gulf Weather posted on Twitter that lightning strikes are being detected within Cyclone Gabrielle's eyewall. This is a sign that a new intensification phase may be underway, it said.

MetService Auckland-based meteorologist Georgina Griffiths said during a press conference on Friday that despite where the cyclone ends up tracking the effects will still be felt in Auckland.

The worst-case scenario is the cyclone tracks pretty close to New Zealand and therefore the impacts will be large in magnitude.

The better scenario is it's slightly further away.

"But please note, that even if it's further away, Auckland should expect impacts," Griffiths said.

This is because the region is vulnerable after the January 27th flooding and because the system is a very deep low when it comes near the country and is a large system.

"We will still see impacts in the region," Griffiths said.

How to prepare for Cyclone Gabrielle

  • Preparing your property for high winds by securing large, heavy objects or removing any items that could be picked up by the wind

  • Clear out gutters and check spoutings and drains

  • Relocate items from any areas of your property that are prone to flooding

  • Consider postponing all non-essential travel and stay off the roads when the weather hits

  • Develop a Household Emergency Plan that includes your pets

  • Have a grab bag ready

  • Stock up on essential supplies, enough to last three days

  • Check on your friends, whānau, neighbours and anyone who might need your help, especially those who have already been affected by recent flooding or those in low lying coastal places

  • Check Auckland Emergency Management for more information and evacuation centres' locations

Ways to stay safe during the cyclone (according to Bay of Plenty Emergency Management)

  • Close windows, external and internal doors. Pull curtains and drapes over unprotected glass areas to prevent injury from shattered or flying glass.

  • Avoid driving unless absolutely necessary. Surface flooding, restricted visibility and slips are possible during severe weather.

  • Avoid recreational activities on or near the water, as storm conditions can cause turbulent and unsafe waters, and coastal inundation is expected.

  • Unplug small appliances that may be affected by electrical power surges, as power cuts are possible in severe weather. If power is lost, unplug major appliances to reduce the power surge and possible damage when power is restored.

Remember: If your life is at risk immediately contact emergency services on 111. 

For more information on how to prepare visit the government's Get Ready website or read more here.

How government agencies are preparing for Cyclone Gabrielle

It's all hands on deck as Auckland prepares for the storm to hit.

"We have a whole lot of people helping. We've got all out contractors, we've borrowed contractors from demolition people, we've got the army coming in to help, defence force, so we are all out trying to get this ready," Auckland Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson told AM on Friday.

She said the good news is there are three days to prepare.

Simpson encourages people to keep an eye on Auckland Emergency Management's (AEM) social media pages.

AEM is urging every Aucklander to get prepared.

"We continue to work together with our partner agencies on ensuring that everything that can be done to prepare for Cyclone Gabrielle is being done. This includes sending the message to our communities that we need everybody to take action now to be prepared," AEM duty controller Rachel Kelleher said during a press conference on Friday.

Kheller said the impacts of the system may vary than what was experienced during the floods two weeks ago. 

"The addition of strong winds and storm surges mean there are additional risks and the impacts will compound those that are still being felt from last month's event," she said. 

AEM is planning an increased number of evacuation centres across the region which will be published on their website in the coming days. 

The council and the defence force are clearing flood-damaged items off curbsides and urge Aucklanders to, if possible, not put items out on the curb or take items to one of the 15 drop-off facilities across the region.

The Healthy Waters team are also preparing the stormwater network for more rain.

Auckland Council Building Control general manager Ian McCormick said during the press conference people in red and yellow stickered houses or are living in close proximity to a landslip to seek accommodation elsewhere during the storm which is arriving on Sunday.

"If your building has a red placard stay out… If it's yellow follow the direction on the placard and out of an abundance of caution we would encourage you to consider moving out during this event, stay somewhere else," McCormick said.  

"If you are beside of similar topography to a building that has a slip on it or a red placard, or you're directly above it or below it, we would encourage you to be vigilance. If you have any concerns about the stability of your house or the land in the area we would encourage you to move out until the end of the event."

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) said in a statement they will have around 100 personnel in Auckland communities on Friday afternoon helping remove flood-damaged waste ahead of forecast severe weather.

The NZDF has also sent a team to Auckland from its Deployable Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (DJIATF), who will be ready to assist Auckland Civil Defence and Emergency Management authorities with coordinating emergency response efforts should this be needed.

NZDF personnel are assisting Auckland emergency authorities clean up from previous severe weather and to help prepare for emergency response efforts to the forecast cyclone.
NZDF personnel are assisting Auckland emergency authorities clean up from previous severe weather and to help prepare for emergency response efforts to the forecast cyclone. Photo credit: Supplied

Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) is preparing for the impact of the cyclone and bringing in additional resources from around the country bringing in 32 people from urban search and rescue specialist teams and water rescue teams. 

FENZ Auckland City District manager Vaughan Mackereth's advice is if you are in your home and you see flood waters enter your property call Civil Defence and report your property is flooding. If your life is in danger or there is a landslide happening above your property or onto your property, you call 111.

"It's really important that if life is in danger you dial 111. If the flood waters are just entering your property that you just log with Civil Defence or Auckland Emergency Management. But if anything life-threatening [and] landslides then you dial 111 and we will be there," Mackereth told Ryan Bridge on AM.

People are also urged to stay off the roads, which reduces the risk of being trapped by flooding or hit by a falling tree.  

Mackereth said before the storm hits, the public is urged to take the time to check their property and fasten anything they can, especially trampolines and outdoor furniture. He also advises Kiwis to clean out and check spoutings and drains, and check on their neighbours, friends and family to make sure they are prepared.

Auckland City police acting District Commander Inspector Grant Tetzlaff said police will continue to be visible across the region.

Insp Tetzlaff said they are aware of and have responded to burglaries in flood-affected properties and encourage anyone who sees suspicious behaviour to report it the police on 105. 

"These incidents are incredibly disappointing considering the impact these flooding events have had on those particular members of our community," Insp Tetzlaff said. 

Auckland Transport has released a list of areas at high risk of flooding due to Cyclone Gabrielle.

These areas should be avoided should flooding occur.

The list can be found here.

"Water and electricity don't mix well"

We all have electricity running through our homes, but with the impending impact of Cyclone Gabrielle, Master Electricians has issued a warning because "water and electricity don't mix well".

Master Electricians chief executive, Bernie McLaughlin is urging Kiwis to be "extremely careful" if their homes or businesses are flooded.

"Do not enter any area where the water has risen above the electrical outlets and beware of areas where any wiring may be.

McLaughlin's electricity advice:

  • Do not touch any electrical devices or appliances while standing in water.
  • Do not touch anything electrical that has been in contact with water.
  • Do not enter any area where the water has risen above the electrical outlets.
  • Beware of areas where any wiring may be underwater.
  • If you need to evacuate or leave your home, beware of fallen power lines and exposed underground cables that could create a risk of electrocution.
  •  Do not touch or go near downed or exposed power lines. Maintain a safe distance of at least 10 meters, and call 111.

Companies prepare for Cyclone Gabrielle

A Twitter post from Air New Zealand said it's working closely with the relevant authorities to understand the potential severity of Cyclone Gabrielle and are adjusting its policies ahead of time.
"We're extending our increased flexibility to more of our regional ports across the North Island. This now includes Rotorua, Taupō, Gisborne and Napier," Air NZ said.

For more information, including details about flexibility, see Air NZ's Travel Alerts page.

Counties Energy is also advising residents to be prepared for the potential of long periods of time without power.

In a statement, the energy provider said in the event of large-scale power outages their crews 'make safe' first, moving around the region and isolating power to any damaged or downed lines and electrical equipment before moving to restore the network.

Once essential services are restored crews then work to repair widespread outages affecting significant numbers, then multiple properties and businesses, then single properties.   

Outage preparation tips and what to do in a power outage can be found on their website here.

The Insurance Council has urged people to make flooding and weather-related claims online if possible as the phone lines will be busy.

If your property was damaged in the last fortnight’s climate event but now has additional damage, be sure to record the new damage and report that to your insurer, the council said in a statement.

Weather watches and warnings

The impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle could come slightly earlier for New Zealand. 

Forecasters expected the impacts to be felt on Sunday night but as the cyclone gets closer and a clearer picture is painted, MetSerivce has brought forward its weather watches.

"Cyclone Gabrielle is expected to move southeastwards out of the tropics and lie north of the country by Sunday. East to southeast winds will strengthen significantly over northern parts of the North Island during the weekend, and there is high confidence of severe gales for Northland, Auckland and Coromandel Peninsula from Sunday through Tuesday," MetService said.

There is also a high confidence of significant heavy rainfall over Northland, Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula, and Gisborne from Sunday to Tuesday. This high confidence extends to Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and easternmost Waikato on Monday and Tuesday, when there is also low confidence for Taranaki, Waitomo, Taumarunui, and the remainder of Waikato.

Watches have been issued for Northland, Auckland, the Coromandel Penisula, Gisborne and Hawke's Bay - these are likely to be upgraded from yellow to orange or red.

Northland, and Auckland including Great Barrier Island have been issued a heavy rain watch from 1am Sunday to noon Tuesday. 

The Coromandel Peninsula will be under a heavy rain watch from 10am Sunday to 3pm Tuesday.

Gisborne has been issued a heavy rain watch from 3pm Sunday until noon Tuesday and Hawke's Bay from 6am Monday until 6am Wednesday.

A strong wind watch has also been issued for Northland and Auckland north of Whangaparaoa from noon Sunday until midnight Tuesday, and for Auckland from Whangaparaoa southwards, and the Coromandel Peninsula from 6pm Sunday until midnight Tuesday.

MetService has forecasted 200 to 300mm of rain or more in Northland, northern Auckland, Coromandel, Gisborne and Hawkes Bay. It said the rainfall could cause further flooding, slips and further damage to roads and infrastructure.

The weather forecasting agency has also predicted severe gales of 120 to 140 km/h or more from Northland to Wellington. It warns gales could damage buildings, blow debris, bring down trees and cause power cuts.

Strong waves of at least five to seven metres is expected for the north and east coasts, especially from Northland to Bay of Plenty, and the east coast of the North Island. The western coasts of Northland and Auckland could also see large waves. This can cause dangerous coastal conditions and inundations.

Could Cyclone Gabrielle miss New Zealand?

As Cyclone Gabrielle is a couple of days out from possibly hitting New Zealand, forecasters can still not be completely certain about its tracking. 

WeatherWatch posted on Friday the cyclone has a "very clear" track towards New Zealand but a high-pressure zone to the east will help control movement once it reaches the country.

"For those asking if the storm could miss NZ in any way, the only real chance for this to happen would be for the high east of the country to either significantly weaken, or to drift further away to the east," WeatherWatch forecaster Philip Duncan said. 

"It's been a long time since New Zealand weather forecasters have seen such extreme weather modelling for the upper North Island – this is why you’re hearing all forecasters talk about this serious set-up. 

"But the reason we're saying 'path not 100 percent locked in yet' is due to that high to the east. A slight shift in that high-pressure zone can make really dramatic differences to the tracking of the cyclone and therefore the severe weather that goes with it for NZ."

Modelling is consistent still that the North Island has plenty of severe weather risks but the further north or east the cyclone possibly moves the better it will be for New Zealand.

NIWA posted on Twitter compared to Thursday there are now more scenarios to the east.

"This would expose Northland, Auckland, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne & Hawke's Bay to the worst weather."