Weather: Auckland's local state of emergency extended, MetService issues watches as sodden super city prepares for Cyclone Gabrielle

MetService has issued a number of yellow heavy rain and strong wind watches for the top of the North Island as Cyclone Gabrielle makes its way to our shores. 

While Cyclone Gabrielle is still over 2500km from the top of the North Island, watches have been issued for Northland, Auckland and the Coromandel Penisula and are likely to be upgraded from yellow to orange or red, the forecaster said. 

MetService meteorologist Andrew James told Newshub it is likely other regions at the top of the North Island will be issued watches or warnings too. 

Cyclone Gabrielle is currently a category two cyclone, but NIWA said the cyclone is forecast to intensify into a "severe category three" by Friday morning as it heads southward. 

Northland and Auckland north of Whangaparaoa have been issued a heavy rain watch from 1am Sunday to midnight Tuesday. 

"Rainfall amounts may approach warning criteria during Sunday. However, a more significant period is expected to be from Monday morning through to Tuesday morning, where we may see rainfall amounts of 150-200mm in 24 hours," said MetService's website. 

James said the estimated amount of rainfall for Auckland is typically two lots of February rainfall in a 24-hour period. 

"It's a significant amount of heavy rain."

Northland and Auckland north of Whangaparaoa have been issued with a strong wind watch too, from 6am Sunday to midnight Tuesday.

Auckland south of Whangaparaoa and the Coromandel Peninsula will be under a strong wind watch from 6am Monday to midnight Tuesday.

The Coromandel Penisula has been issued a heavy rain watch from 10am Sunday to midnight Tuesday. 

"Periods of heavy rain. Rainfall amounts may approach warning criteria during Sunday. However, a more significant period is expected to be from midday Monday through to midday Tuesday, where we may see rainfall amounts of 200-300mm in 24 hours."

James said modelling around Cyclone Gabrielle's path to Aotearoa paints a "similar and concerning" picture for the North Island. 

"The exact impact does depend on the exact path of it, but all of them [modelling] bring some wet weather to the North Island."

The meteorologist told Newshub the amount of rain is "especially concerning" because of the recent flooding. He added the main impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle are expected across Monday and Tuesday.

And while there is a ridge of high pressure - settled weather - across Aotearoa at the moment, James is urging flood victims to make the most of it. 

"People should take some advantage of that and get prepared."

And the significance of Cyclone Gabrielle is partly because it's coming from the tropics. In a tweet, NIWA said the tropics "are a very moist, humid place".

"As Tropical #CycloneGabrielle tracks out of the tropics, it will bring all of that moisture with it!" NIWA tweeted. 

NIWA said with Aotearoa's "complex terrain" thrown in the mix too, it can further enhance rainfall amounts.

"This is why there is a concern for over a month's worth of rain." 

Local state of emergency extended 

Mayor Wayne Brown has extended Auckland's local state of emergency for another week following "more flooding on Tuesday, significant land movements yesterday and the risk of more land movement with further weather events forecast in coming days". 

"My decision reflects the seriousness of the current and potential situation and our response," Brown said in a statement. 

Brown said the destruction left by the floods 13 days ago and with the region waterlogged, "it will be a very serious situation if the current weather forecasts eventuate".

Brown's advice to Aucklanders: 

  • If the cyclone does come near the North Island, the focus will be saving lives, preventing serious injury, keeping safe, and also protecting property.
  • In the next two or three days, we all can best prepare by cleaning up.
  • Staying informed through MetService. 

Could Cyclone Gabrielle pass Aotearoa?

WeatherWatch forecaster Duncan Phillip said Cyclone Gabrielle could pass Aotearoa if the high east of the country was to weaken or drift further away east.

"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."

Phillip said the reason no weather forecaster has yet confirmed Cyclone Gabrielle's path is because of the 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 New Zealand."

The forecaster said Cyclone Gabrielle could be the "most serious storm" northern New Zealand has experienced since the 1990s.

"Modelling is consistent still that the North Island has plenty of severe weather risks," Phillip said.

"The further north or east this storm goes the better it will be for New Zealand." 

Weather: Auckland's local state of emergency extended, MetService issues watches as sodden super city prepares for Cyclone Gabrielle
Photo credit: WeatherWatch

Auckland Emergency Management (AEM) has now shifted its focus to Cyclone Gabrielle and best preparing the region for any potential impacts caused by the new weather system. 

Current information from MetService advises the first effects from the cyclone will likely be felt  on Sunday night, with the most severe impacts expected on Monday and Tuesday.

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.

"Our key message for our communities is to use the next few days to get ready for what could be another significant event for our region. We ask that people pitch in and do what they can now to ensure they are best prepared to respond as needed to what may come," AEM duty controller Rachel Kelleher said during a press conference on Thursday.

Keheller said the current weather system is predicted to bring heavy wind, which the flooding two weeks ago did not have. This can cause slips, fallen trees, power outages and coastal erosion.

"Please take the time that we have now to pitch in and prepare yourself and your family for the impacts of what could be more severe weather," Kelleher reiterated. 

Keheller advises people to check the Get Ready website for information on how to prepare for an emergency.

AEM's tips to prepare include packing a bag with essential items, stocking up on emergency supplies, clearing debris and leaves from drains and gutters to prevent surface flooding, and securing items like wheelie bins and trampolines.

You can also read more on how to prepare for Cyclone Gabrielle here.

Gisborne District Council is also urging people in isolated areas to stock up on any food and medical supplies they need as Cyclone Gabrielle approaches.

"The MetService have advised us this morning there is high confidence of heavy rain starting around Sunday evening for Gisborne and north of Gisborne with a predicted forecast of 100mm of rain for the district," Tairāwhiti Civil Defence Group Controller Ben Green said in a statement.

"Cyclones can change track and it isn't yet clear how much rain will arrive and where it will fall.

"However, with our region still very fragile following ex-tropical Cyclone Hale last month, our key focus is our community in isolated areas who are at high risk and vulnerable to being cut off."

Green said there are also concerns for the council's roading contractors who have been working 70-hour weeks to clean up after ex-tropical Cyclone Hale last month.

"We need to be aware of the health and safety of our contractors who have been pushing themselves to restore access across our region. There is still much work to be done on our roading network and we ask people to please be patient and drive with care," Green said.

Weather forecasters' predictions

MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris told Ryan Bridge on AM the weather system has been tracking  "strangely consistent" across different weather models. 

"That chance of wind and rain turning up for the northern part of the North Island on Sunday are looking very likely at this point, and getting into the very extreme weather on Monday does look likely but we can't be so sure just yet," Ferris said.

He said extreme weather brings huge amounts of rain, flooding, possible power outages and really dangerous coastal conditions in the eastern part of the North Island.

WeatherWatch said in a statement while no official warnings are yet locked in this far in advance, the data this morning means the likelihood of severe weather across much of the North Island looks highly likely.

"If this current modelling comes true, this will likely be the most serious storm to impact New Zealand this century - especially with Auckland being in the mix for a potential direct hit."

The weather forecaster said the upper South Island also has a chance of heavy rain and gales around Kaikōura.

"Just as Gabrielle reaches northern NZ it's expected to encounter higher air pressure to our east - this acts like an invisible brick wall in the sky and that is expected to then curve the cyclone due-south and directly into the upper North Island," WeatherWatch's head forecaster Philip Duncan said.

"This is an extremely concerning set-up and all North Islanders - and some in the South Island - need to be well aware of this storm's path and potential severe weather."

Ferris said it's "very, very poor timing" for the system to come as the northern regions, including Northland, Auckland and Waikato, are vulnerable after recent flooding.

It has been almost two weeks after part of the North Island was battered with deadly torrential rain and heavy flooding. Auckland and the Thames-Coromandel District are both still in states of emergency.    

WeatherWatch's predicted timeline for Cyclone Gabrielle:

  • Sunday - Easterlies ramp up with gales developing from Auckland northwards. Some rain developing.
  • Monday - The centre of the cyclone moves in to northern NZ late in the day and overnight. Peak damaging winds and heaviest rain expected across Monday and into Tuesday.
  • Tuesday - The cyclone moves down the North Island
  • Wednesday - Conditions slowly easing across NZ but gales and some rain still lingering.