A large part of New Zealand is on course for an unprecedented drought. It is only the end of January and a record is being set for the dryest January on record.
I have been observing this where we live and it has been very dry since spring and getting worse by the day. One friend of ours in Wellington we talked to implied that he might have to put horses down due to lack of feed.
The newspapers report this (together with people enjoying the sun on the beach) as if this was just an anomoly and not the start of an ongoing catastrophe.
Not one person has made the connection to climate change (let alone the rapid climate change we are seeing) or to drought in California, Brazil and other parts of the world - still less to extreme weather patterns and melting ice in the Arctic.
From where I'm sitting it seems that hardly anyone cares.
New Zealand: Areas on track for driest January on record
Parts of Auckland and Wellington are on course for their driest January on record, after a month of warm sunny weather.
29 January, 2014
With only two days of the month left, a weather station in the south Auckland suburb of Mangere had recorded just 3mm of rain during January, Niwa data shows. a station at Wellington Airport has recorded just 2mm.
Paraparaumu, on the Kapiti Coast, has also received just 2mm, while Whanganui has clocked up just 1mm, most of which fell yesterday.
Up until yesterday, when showers and thunderstorms fell in many parts of the North Island, 28 places had been headed for their driest January, Niwa climate scientist Gregor Macara said.
Among those was Taupo, which had just a few drops to its name until 25mm fell yesterday. The rainfall total also moved up sharply in New Plymouth, with MetService showing 42mm falling yesterday after just 5.4mm before that during the month.
Niwa data also shows the Waipara West weather station in north Canterbury had gone 57 days without recording any rain up until yesterday morning, well beyond the previous longest dry spell in the area of 37 days in January and early February 1987.
Malcolm McKenzie, a long-time sheep farmer in the Waipara area - nowadays also popular for vineyards - said the weather so far this summer was normal for north Canterbury. "We have dry patches most summers."
He property was not quite as dry as the weather station, having received 12.5mm in a thunderstorm earlier in the month. "But it was very isolated and a lot of people never got a drop," McKenzie said.
He had received another "dollop" from a thunderstorm around Christmas but it also would have missed many people in the area.
His daughter ran a vineyard on the property and had enough water from a bore to keep the crop "ticking over nicely". A big frost in spring had more effect on the crop than the dry weather.
McKenzie thought some newer farmers might have been caught out by the dryness after two consecutive unusually wet autumns. The "old fellas" were used to farming in the dry conditions, and prepared for them.
The Niwa data shows White Island was dry for 39 days up to yesterday morning, the Firth of Thames near Pipiroa for 38 days, and Pahiatua for 36 days. Turangi had been dry for 27 days, and Whanganui and Te Kuiti for 26 days, while a station at Albany in north Auckland had recorded no rain for 24 days. No rain had been recorded in Paraparaumu, Kaikohe and Palmerston North for 20 days.
Macara said that while temperatures were high for much of the country during January, no area had so far set a new record for the month. The maximum recorded so far was 36.4C in Timaru, which was the third highest January temperature in the south Canterbury town since records started in 1885.
Leeston and Ashburton, southwest of Christchurch, had the next highest temperatures for the month with 36.2C and 34.4C.
This is the third consecutive drought year in this country (whether or not recognised by the official figures). Last year eels were dying in Canterbury rivers for lack of water and there was little snow in the alps to feed Canterbury's rivers.
Wellington came within a hair's breadth of running out of water in early 2013.
Ringing the Greater Wellington Council and Hutt City Council no one could provide information on flow rates in the Hutt River - the lady from the Hutt City council said its 'their' river.
Wellington has '20 days of water left' in drought
The Wellington region's water supply is at 'crisis' level, while even the typically wet West Coast is experiencing a big dry as New Zealand's summer drought extends.
HOW LOW CAN IT GO? Texas Matiaha, Lower Hutt, at a depleted Hutt River with nephew Tehuritu Cooper, 6, and niece Lysigna Tam-Cooper, 1.
13 March, 2013
Rural communities throughout the North Island are already reeling from extremely dry conditions. The Government has declared Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay as drought zones. Manawatu-Rangitikei, Wairarapa and Taranaki are set to follow.
Nigel Wilson, who chairs the Wellington region's committee in charge of water supply, said 20 days of water was about all that's left for the people of Wellington, Hutt Valley and Porirua if the heavens did not open soon
The region has had no significant rain since February 4, while Wellington City has not had a drop for a month, the MetService said.
Almost all the available water in the region's rivers has been exhausted, prompting the council to activate an emergency consent yesterday, which allows it to take an additional 17 million litres or so each day from the Hutt River.
That will buy the council an extra 10 days before it has to tap into its emergency supply in the Stuart Macaskill storage lakes at Te Marua, north of Upper Hutt.
But because only one of those lakes was full at present, there would be only 10 days more after that before the 1900m-litre reserve was sucked dry, Wilson said.
"So on day 21, we'll all be moving to Nelson or Hokitika for a drink of water."
Wellington is not officially in drought. But when asked yesterday how far away that was, Wilson was blunt. "A couple more weeks and it's going to be all on another three weeks and the cupboard will be bare."
Tapping into smaller reservoirs around the region was an option the council could look at after that.
The flow in the Hutt River is normally about 5000 litres a second at this time of year, but that dropped to 1300 litres last week.
The regional council can take water from the river till it reaches a minimum flow of 600 litres a second. But the emergency consent reduces that minimum to 400 litres, providing up to 17 million extra litres a day.
MetService forecaster Brooke Lockhart said there was an increased chance of showers across the Wellington region for a few days from Sunday.
But the forecast was uncertain at this stage, because it depended on what path Tropical Cyclone Sandra took as it headed south towards the Tasman Sea.
Wilson encouraged Wellingtonians to "be conscious, conserve, and we'll get through it all. The bottom line is, if you don't have to use it, then don't.
"People should shower with a friend, if that's an option . . . or put a brick in the toilet.
"If you know anyone who's particularly adept at rain dances, then encourage them to get out there and do what they do."
Dry West Coast
On the South Island's West Coast, farmers and residents find themselves in the grip of the region's worst dry spell in decades.
It has been five weeks since rain has fallen, wells are running dry and herds of dairy cows have stopped milking nearly three months early.
Farmers in the worst-affected areas say they have not seen conditions like it in more than 40 years and it could cost them collectively about $20 million.
Later this week they will meet to discuss with officials whether the Government should declare the area a drought zone.
"It's just unheard of," Federated Farmers West Coast president Katie Milne said yesterday. "We are all worried, but it's so unusual.
"No-one knows what's going on because we are just not used to having to deal with it.
"Guys I'm talking to who have lived in the area all their lives are saying it's the driest they've ever seen."
The Ministry for Primary Industries said yesterday it had also been monitoring conditions on the West Coast. Niwa statistics show February was one of the driest on record for Greymouth, Hokitika, Reefton and Westport, with each recording between 15 and 35 per cent of their normal rainfall for the month.
Towns on the West Coast normally record more than 2 metres of rain each year.
Milne said rain had not fallen since February 4 in many areas, and farmers, government officials and other agencies would meet on Friday to discuss whether the area should be declared a drought zone.
Federated Farmers West Coast dairy spokesman Richard Reynolds said about half of the area's 400 herds were struggling. Lost production and high feed costs could set each of them back about $100,000 if it did not rain soon.
Westport, Karamea and the Grey Valley were the worst-affected areas, he said.