Weather: La Niña likely to bring rain for top of NZ this summer - NIWA

Weather experts are predicting there might be a reversal of fortunes.
Weather experts are predicting there might be a reversal of fortunes. Photo credit: RNZ / Sally Round.

By Tom Kitchin of RNZ

Some parts of the country are grappling with a dry spring and fear a lack of rain will lead to another serious drought this year.

A one-in-a-hundred-year drought hit regions like Northland and Hawke's Bay dramatically last summer and some are preparing for a second round.

But weather experts are predicting there might be a reversal of fortunes.

Far North District Mayor John Carter said rain had not fallen significantly in a while.

"We needed to have at least 900mm of rain over the last 3-4 months, we've had about half of that, but last month we had about 32mm of rain which is really low, and this month so far we've had 7 I think."

But if the weather played fair, NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll said the top of the country could be in for a switch by the end of the year.

"The northern and eastern parts of the North Island, Northland down to Hawke's Bay and Gisborne, will be more exposed to wet weather conditions. So it's not something that's going to be a part of the weather here in the short term, but as we go from November into December and then into the summer season, those areas that are quite dry right now will see their chances for beneficial rainfall increase."

That would be due to La Niña, part of the climate cycle, cooler than average ocean temperatures sitting in the tropical Pacific ocean.

The temperatures help forecasters predict what will happen here.

Hawke's Bay might be in for the same.

On Monday, Fire and Emergency New Zealand put the region in a restricted fire season - that's a month earlier than last year when the huge drought hit.

Its principal rural fire officer for Hawke's Bay, Trevor Mitchell, said that was because an unseasonably windy, warm and dry spring had dried out most of Hawke's Bay.

"As a result, our fire crews have been attending a number of hazardous and out of control fires," he said.

But Rural Advisory Group chairman Lochie MacGillivray, who has been behind the support of farmers over the drought period, has said it would be a waiting game to see if a drought would reappear.

"It's quite possible that we could get some nice rain later in the month and through into November, in line with the La Niña event which is what they're saying. However, those of us that have been around before know we've had droughts in La Nina seemingly as often as we've had droughts in El Niño so we're a bit cautionary about that."

Gisborne farmer Peter Jex-Blake said conditions at the moment were on a knife's edge.

He said farmers will have to take action if his region doesn't get rain reasonably soon.

"Farmers will wean earlier and sort of get more lambs on the stall market, which obviously there'd be a bit of suppression in the prices on the storemarket. There was a particularly large cattle fair last week. I guess farmers might have been taking a precautionary approach and selling some cattle earlier than they might otherwise sell them."

Farmers in the South Island have had some wet weather, but Noll suggested their fortunes might change.

"For the South Island, we might expect to see that dryness linger for longer, so in Canterbury and Otago and then even Southland as the rest of the year unfolds, these are the regions we are going to have our eyes on for persistent patterns of dryness."

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor said with climate change, these events could become more acute.

"It's a bit of an unknown one, what we have seen is that temperatures overall are higher, but the reports I get on soil moisture is that it's reasonably OK, but as I say some are thinking that it may be a dry summer again."

He said New Zealanders have to be resilient and help farmers make decisions earlier rather than later.

- Additional reporting by Riley Kennedy and Eric Frykberg