2003

Thursday, 8 January 2004

Summary

Many extreme events
Record low rainfall and cool in parts of Otago; wet in Coromandel
Record sunshine in the South Island and in the lower North Island

A cocktail of severe weather events and climate extremes involving very dry autumn conditions in many areas, extensive flooding and late snow storms made 2003 a very notable year climatically, says Senior Climate Scientist Dr Jim Salinger of the NIWA National Climate Centre. Overall the year featured many new climate records and weather extremes. Analysis showed new records set in many months for rainfall, temperature and sunshine.

Dr Salinger said, “One of the most notable climate extremes and events was the very dry period from January through early May in the southwest of the North Island and eastern regions of both islands, re-appearing in many eastern regions at the end of the year. There was a remarkably mild start to winter with the warmest June on record, followed by a very frosty July, and late frosts in October. Of the five snowfall events to low levels, heavy snow in early July in the eastern South Island and the North Island high-country caused power cuts, closed airports and left many travellers stranded. There was also snowfall to the South Island hill country in October with thousands of newborn lambs lost to exposure.” For the year, there were at least 20 heavy rainfall events, of which nine produced floods, mainly in the North Island. The event producing the Paekakariki landslides in early October caused $2.5 million of damage. Of the five extreme wind events, six trucks were blown over along with property damage during the severe northwesterly gales that affected central and eastern New Zealand on 18 September, along with a few destructive tornadoes on the West Coast. A boy was injured when struck by lightning, and there were also two severe hailstorms with hailstones the size of golf balls. “Not a month went by without something of note”, said Dr Salinger.

Easterlies were more frequent than normal from January to April, while north westerlies and settled conditions were more prevalent from May to August. Changeable west to southwesterlies predominated over the remainder of the year. Seas around New Zealand were warmer than normal until October, then trended to cooler than normal by December. NIWA analyses of month-by-month records and preliminary end of year data show:

  • The year’s national average temperature was 12.7°C (0.1°C above the 1971–2000 normal).
  • The highest annual mean temperature recorded for the year was 16.4°C recorded at Mokohinau Island.
  • The highest recorded extreme air temperature for the year was 36.0°C recorded at Middlemarch on 31 December.
  • A late-summer heat wave occurred over the lower North Island, with new record maximum temperatures for any time of the year being recorded of 29.6°C at Paraparaumu on 28 February and 31.0°C at Levin on 2 March.
  • The South Island and lower North Island had a very sunny year, with Wellington, Hokitika and Dunedin recording their sunniest year on record. Nelson’s total of 2707 hours is the 2nd highest annual value on record for any centre in New Zealand.
  • June 2003 was the warmest in more than 150 years of measurement for New Zealand overall, with temperatures 2°C above average.
  • The lowest air temperature for the year was –14.8°C, recorded at Tekapo on 13 July. This was Tekapo’s 2nd equal lowest July air temperature on record (measurements commenced in 1925).
  • The driest rainfall recording locations were Alexandra with 264.0 mm, followed closely by Lauder in Central Otago with a record low 264.2 mm of rain for the year.
  • Christchurch was the driest of the four main centres with 459 mm and Auckland the wettest with 1345 mm. Wellington received 1040 mm and Dunedin 533 mm.
  • Of the regularly reporting gauges, the Cropp River gauge in Westland, inland in the headwaters of the Hokitika River, recorded the highest rainfall with an annual total of 9301 mm.
  • Christchurch was the sunniest of the four main centres with 2362 sunshine hours, followed by Wellington (2271 hours), and Auckland (2047 hours). Dunedin recorded 1971 hours. Nelson was the sunniest centre in 2003 with 2707 hours, followed by Blenheim with 2663 hours, and Appleby (near Nelson) with 2652 hours.
  • Invercargill recorded five months with significantly above average sunshine in February, March, June, August, and October.
  • The highest recorded wind gust for the year was 183 km/h at South West Cape (Stewart Island) on 16 November, with hurricane force northerlies and mean speeds as high as 132 km/h.

For further information, please contact:

Dr Jim Salinger, NIWA – Auckland,

Tel (09) 375 2053 (Business) or (09) 527 3939 (after hours), Mobile 025 540 707

FULL REPORT

Prevailing climate patterns

Extremely low rainfall and cool in Otago; wet in Coromandel
Above average sunshine over the South Island and lower North Island

Overall, more northeasterlies occurred over the North Island, and more westerlies over southern New Zealand. Anticyclones (‘highs’) were more prevalent, leading to the sunnier, but drier conditions. The year began with more frequent easterlies over the North Island with anticyclones to the southwest from January through April. A change occurred to more frequent but settled north westerlies from May through August, then changeable west-to-southwesterlies predominated for the remainder of the year. These patterns resulted from a mix of climatic events throughout the year. Although neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific occurred for much of the year, seas around New Zealand remained warmer than normal over the autumn and winter periods. Seas cooled in spring with temperatures trending below average by December.

Extremely low rainfall in otago; wetter in the Coromandel Peninsula

2003 was the driest year on record at many Otago sites. Rainfall was also well below average in north Canterbury, and central Marlborough, with totals less than 75 percent of normal. Totals were 75 to 90 percent of average in Horowhenua, Kapiti, Buller, and Westland. Rainfall in the Coromandel Peninsula exceeded 110 percent of normal. Rainfall was near normal elsewhere.

Extremes of annual rainfall for the year 2003 were measured at:

Location 2003 rainfall (mm) Percentage of normal Year records began Comments
Levin 839 76 1896 4th lowest
Paraparaumu Airport 823 79 1945 4th lowest
Blenheim Airport 482 66 1941 Lowest
Tara Hills, Omarama 378 69 1950 Lowest
Dunedin Airport 467 71 1963 3rd lowest
Dunedin, Musselburgh 533 68 1918 4th lowest
Lauder 264 53 1943 Lowest
Ettrick 366 58 1986 Lowest

Of the four main centres, Christchurch was the driest with 459 mm (71% of average) and Auckland the wettest with 1345 mm (104% of average). Wellington received 1040 mm (82%) and Dunedin 533 mm (68%). Alexandra, Central Otago, was the driest of the sites where NIWA measured rainfall, with only 264.0 mm (76% of average), followed by Lauder in Central Otago with 264.2 mm (53% of average). Of the regularly reporting rainfall stations, the wettest location in 2003 (for which rainfall data are presently available) was the Cropp River gauge in Westland, inland in the headwaters of the Hokitika River, with an annual total of 9301 mm.

Cool in Central Otago

The 2003 national average temperature, calculated by NIWA, was 12.7°C, which was 0.1°C above the 1971–2000 normal. For New Zealand as a whole, three months were close to the climatological average (August, September and December), three months were warmer (March, May and June – of which June was the warmest on record), and six cooler (January, February, April, July, October and November). The warmest locale overall was Mokohinau Island, with a mean temperature for the year of 16.4°C (+0.3°C above average). 2003 mean temperatures were at least 0.3°C above average in Auckland, Coromandel, Waikato, coastal Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Golden Bay, and Nelson, but at least 0.3°C below average in coastal Wairarapa, and Central Otago.

Very high mean temperatures for the year 2003 were measured at:

Location Mean temperature (°C) Departure from normal Year records began Comments
Farewell Spit 14.4 +1.0 1972 Equal highest

Exceptionally sunny over the South Island, and in the lower North Island

The year was exceptionally sunny over much of the South Island, with record values recorded in at Nelson Airport, and in Hokitika and Dunedin. Wellington also recorded its sunniest year on record. Totals were close to or more than 115 percent of normal in Nelson, Westland, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland. It was also sunnier than normal in Kapiti. Sunshine hours were near normal in all other regions.Nelson was the sunniest centre in 2003, recording 2707 hours, followed by Blenheim with 2663 hours, then Appleby, near Nelson with 2652 hours. Nelson’s total of 2707 hours is the 2nd highest annual value on record for any centre in New Zealand. The highest value is 2711 recorded at Nelson in 1931. Total sunshine hours for the year 2003 in selected main centres were:

Location 2003 sunshine (hours) Normal (hours) Departure from normal Comments
Auckland 2042 2018 +1% Near normal
Wellington 2271 2048 +11% Highest
Christchurch 2362 2057 +15% 2nd highest
Dunedin 1971 1597 +23% Highest
Invercargill 1839 1565 +18% 2nd highest

Extremes of annual sunshine hours for the year 2003 were measured at:

Location 2003 sunshine (hours) Percentage of normal Year records began Comments
Wellington 2271 111 1928 Highest
Nelson 2707 114 1909 2nd highest
Hokitika 2174 119 1913 Highest
Christchurch 2362 115 1930 2nd highest
Dunedin 1971 123 1915 Highest
Invercargill 1839 118 1913 2nd highest

Significant weather and climate events – 2003

Three warmer months, six cooler

For New Zealand as a whole, there were three warmer than average months (March, May and June) and six cooler than average months (January, February, April, July, October and November). Some highlights were:

  • Late-summer heat wave
    A late-summer heat wave occurred over the lower North Island, with Paraparaumu recording 29.6°C on 28 February, a new record high temperature at that station for any time of the year in records going back to 1953. On 2 March, Levin recorded 31.0°C, a new record high temperature for any time of the year in records dating back to 1896.
  • Warmest June on record
    Only June 1971 (10.2°C) was anywhere near as warm. Temperatures reached more than 3°C above normal in some inland sheltered areas of the eastern South Island. The June national average temperature of 10.3°C was 2.0°C above normal, the highest since reliable measurements commenced in the 1850s. Above average sea surface temperatures around much of New Zealand, especially to the north and west, contributed to the anomalously warm land temperatures.
  • End of year heat wave
    The highest December 2003 temperature was 36.0°C, recorded at Middlemarch on the 31st; the highest December temperature on record in the Middlemarch area, and equal highest for December for the Otago region (36.0°C at Alexandra in December 1988).

Unusually high mean monthly temperatures in 2003 were recorded at:

Location Mean temperature Departure (°C) Records began Comments
March
Palmerston North Airport 18.3 +1.9 1962 3rd equal highest
Farewell Spit 18.4 +1.7 1977 Highest
Wanaka Airport 16.1 +2.2 1993 Highest
Queenstown 16.8 +2.4 1872 Highest
Lauder 15.4 +2.4 1982 Highest
Clyde 16.3 +2.0 1983 Highest
May
Farewell Spit 13.7 +1.9 1971 Highest
Nelson Airport 11.7 +1.8 1943 2nd equal highest
Hanmer Forest 9.6 +2.2 1906 2nd highest
June
Auckland, Mangere 13.6 +2.2 1853 2nd highest
Hamilton, Ruakura 11.6 +2.3 1907 2nd highest
Paeroa 12.2 +2.3 1947 3rd equal highest
Tauranga Airport 12.5 +2.2 1913 2nd highest
New Plymouth Airport 12.2 +2.1 1944 3rd highest
Hicks Bay 13.7 +1.8 1991 Highest
Gisborne Airport 12.1 +2.2 1905 2nd highest
Mahia 12.8 +1.6 1991 Highest
Napier Airport 12.1 +2.6 1974 Highest
Napier, Nelson Park 12.4 +2.9 1870 2nd highest
Castlepoint 12.6 +1.8 1973 Highest
East Taratahi 10.0 +2.0 1906 Highest
Palmerston N. Airport 11.1 +2.7 1962 Equal highest
Levin 11.6 +2.3 1896 Equal highest
Paraparaumu Airport 12.2 +3.0 1953 Highest
Wallaceville 11.2 +3.0 1940 Highest
Wellington, Kelburn 11.6 +2.3 1862 Highest
Wellington Airport 12.4 +2.3 1962 Highest
Wanganui 12.0 +2.1 1937 3rd highest
Farewell Spit 12.5 +2.8 1971 Equal highest
Milford Sound 7.7 +2.0 1935 2nd highest
Puysegur Point 9.7 +1.3 1978 Highest
Nelson Airport 9.7 +2.3 1943 3rd highest
Christchurch Airport 8.0 +1.9 1954 Equal highest
Christchurch Gardens 8.7 +2.0 1864 3rd highest
Lincoln 8.9 +2.2 1864 Highest
Winchmore 9.1 +3.3 1950 Highest
Tara Hills, Omarama 6.1 +3.9 1950 Highest
Dunedin, Musselburgh 8.5 +1.4 1853 3rd highest
Manapouri Airport 5.8 +1.5 1992 Highest
Queenstown 7.1 +2.7 1872 Highest
Queenstown Airport 6.0 +2.6 1969 Highest
Lauder 6.0 +3.7 1982 Highest
Clyde 6.1 +2.2 1983 Equal highest
Ettrick 6.5 +1.5 1985 Highest
Gore 6.5 +1.8 1972 Equal highest
Invercargill Airport 7.6 +2.0 1948 Highest
Tiwai Point 8.7 +2.0 1970 Highest

Unusually high mean daily maximum temperatures in 2003 were recorded at:

Location Mean daily maximum temperature Departure (°C) Records began Comments
March
East Taratahi 24.1 +2.5 1973 2nd equal highest
Paraparaumu Airport 22.2 +1.9 1953 2nd highest
Palmerston North Airport 24.5 +3.0 1962 2nd highest
Levin 23.8 +3.1 1896 Equal highest
Hanmer Forest 23.7 +3.0 1906 2nd highest
Tara Hills 22.5 +2.5 1950 Highest
Wanaka Airport 23.2 +2.4 1993 Highest
Manapouri airport 19.9 +1.9 1991 2nd highest
Queenstown 23.4 +3.6 1872 Highest
Queenstown Airport 21.0 +2.1 1969 Highest
Lauder 22.8 +3.0 1982 Highest
Clyde 23.4 +2.8 1983 Highest
Ettrick 22.4 +2.3 1985 2nd highest
May
Hanmer Forest 16.6 +3.4 1906 Highest
August
Puysegur Point 10.0 +1.6 1980 Highest
September
Whangarei Airport 14.2 +1.3 1967 Highest
Tauranga Airport 13.3 +1.4 1913 3rd highest
Whakatane Airport 12.8 +1.6 1975 2nd highest
Gisborne Airport 13.3 +1.6 1905 3rd equal highest
Napier Airport 13.2 +1.7 1974 2nd highest

Extremes of maximum temperature in 2003 were recorded at:

Location Maximum temperature (°C) Records began Date of occurrence Comments
February
Paraparaumu Airport 29.6 1953 28th Highest
March
Levin 31.0 1986 2nd Highest
September
Napier 26.5 1868 26th 3rd highest, highest since 1955
December
Middlemarch 36.0 2000 31st Highest

Unusually low mean monthly temperatures in 2003 were recorded at:

Location Mean temperature Departure (°C) Records began Comments
April
Blenheim Airport 11.8 –1.5 1941 3rd lowest
Christchurch Airport 10.2 –1.9 1954 3rd lowest
July
Whakatu 6.6 –1.8 1983 Lowest
August
Clyde 4.4 –1.3 1983 Equal lowest

Unusually low monthly mean daily minimum temperatures were recorded at:

Location Mean daily minimum temperature Departure (°C) Records began Comments
July
East Taratahi 0.0 –2.7 1972 2nd lowest
Whakatu 0.9 –2.2 1983 Lowest
Westport Airport 3.0 –1.5 1937 3rd equal lowest
Blenheim Airport -0.3 –1.7 1941 3rd equal lowest
Christchurch Airport -0.9 –1.7 1954 3rd equal lowest

Severe frost

There were a number of periods during the year with severe or damaging frosts.

  • 22 February
    On some farms in parts of Hawke’s Bay, south of Hastings, as much as 50 percent of squash crops were severely damaged by ground frost in parts of Hawke’s Bay, south of Hastings, which were much earlier than normal.
  • June
    Severe overnight ground frosts occurred in many eastern South Island areas after the 10th, with –15.9°C recorded in Mt Cook Village on the 18th. Christchurch Airport recorded grass minima of –10.4°C on the 17th, and –10.7°C on the 26th, both breaking the previous all time record there, in measurements that began in 1954.
  • July
    The lowest air temperature for the year was –14.8°C, recorded at Tekapo on the 13th. This was Tekapo’s 2nc equal lowest July air temperature on record (measurements commenced in 1925). July was frostier than normal in many areas, especially in the south and west of the North Island, including the Central Plateau, and parts of the north and east of the South Island. The frostiest periods, often with severe ground frost, occurred on July 6, 7, 12–14 and 20–26. Severe ground frost (–6.0°C or lower) occurred somewhere in New Zealand on most days of the month.
  • 14 and 24 August
    Severe overnight ground frosts occurred at Ettrick (–12.2°C) on the 14th, and of –10 to –12°C in several inland areas of Canterbury (Mt Cook Village) and Otago (Ranfurly) on the 24th.

Record lows of minimum air temperature in 2003 were measured at:

Location Minimum temperature (°C) Date of occurrence Records began Comments
February
Turangi 0.0 22nd 1968 Lowest
Waiouru –2.9 22nd 1967 Lowest
Ohakune, Ruapehu College –0.6 22nd 1994 Lowest
Hastings, Whakatu 2.9 22nd 1983 Lowest
Masterton, Te Ore Ore 0.5 22nd 1993 Lowest
Waione 0.2 23rd 1992 Lowest
Appleby 1.0 22nd 1932 Lowest
Christchurch Airport 1.5 20th 1954 Lowest
Arthurs Pass –2.0 22nd 1979 Lowest
April
Tara Hills –6.3 25th 1950 Lowest
July
East Taratahi –5.9 7th 1972 Lowest
Tekapo –14.8 13th 1925 Lowest
Ranfurly –11.6 5th 1975a Lowest
Dunedin Airport –8.6 13th 1963 Lowest
September
Waimate –4.9 1st 1908 2nd lowest
October
Te Puke 0.0 6th 1973 2nd lowest
Gisborne Airport –0.4 6th 1905 2nd equal lowest
Rotorua Airport –1.9 6th 1964 2nd lowest
Waiouru –6.8 6th 1966 Lowest
Palmerston N. Airport –1.6 6th 1963 3rd lowest
Hanmer Forest –5.5 6th 1906 Lowest
Wanaka Airport –2.9 6th 1992 Lowest
Queenstown Airport –3.7 6th 1968 Lowest
Ranfurly –4.8 5th 1975 3rd lowest

Record low grass minimum temperatures were measured at:

Location Grass minimum temperature (°C) Date of occurrence Records began
February
Ohakune, Ruapehu College –3.0 22nd 1994
Hastings, Whakatu –1.2 22nd 1983
Masterton, Te Ore Ore –1.5a 22nd 1993
East Taratahi –2.8 23rd 1973
Wallaceville –3.3 22nd 1940
Christchurch Airport –2.7 20th 1954
Winchmore –3.6 23rd 1950
Arthurs Pass –11.0 22nd 1979
Milford Sound –1.0 21st 1962
June
Christchurch Airport –10.4 / –10.7 17th / 26th 1954
July
East Taratahi –9.3 14th 1972
Whakatu –9.0 7th 1983
Rangiora –10.8 13th 1965
Christchurch Airport –10.3 / –11.5 7th / 13th 1954
October
Motueka, Riwaka –5.0 6th 1956
Mt. Cook Village –9.6 6th 1931
Winchmore –7.9 6th 1950

a equal lowest

Well above average numbers of days with July ground frost were recorded at:

Location Days with ground frost Departure from normal Year records began Comments
Waiouru 25 +8 1960 Highest
Levin 22 +10 1921 2nd equal highest, most since July 1971
Paraparaumu Airport 19 +8 1953 Highest
Rangiora 25 +8 1965 Highest
Christchurch Airport 25 +6 1954 2nd equal highest
Christchurch Gardens 27 +8 1864 2nd equal highest. Highest since 1952
Balclutha, Finegand 25 +8 1964 Highest

Snowfall

There were several periods with snowfall, between July and November, two of which occurred to low levels in the South Island.

  • 4–5 July
    A very cold southerly outbreak brought significant snowfall to sea level in the eastern South Island over the 4th and 5th of July, with heavy snowfall settling down to 300–500 m in the central and eastern North Island on the 5th. Snow flurries occurred to sea level in parts of the western north Island, and also in the east as far north as Napier. Snow settled to depths of 50 cm in the western Hawke’s Bay high-country, 30 cm in the Gisborne high-country, 30 cm in the Manawatu about and east of the Gorge, 35 cm on the Rimutaka Summit Road north of Wellington, 20–35 cm in inland Canterbury, and 10 cm in some inland areas of south Taranaki and Southland, with a few centimetres to sea level in many eastern South Island districts. Snow-covered roads were treacherous, leaving most high-country roads closed. Numerous motorists and travellers were stranded, especially on the Desert Road (where some truck drivers stayed overnight in their cabs) and at Norsewood. Power was cut to more than 10,000 homes in the central and eastern North Island at the height of the storm, and many rural schools in both islands were closed. Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown airports were closed at times during the event, because of icy runways. South Island maximum temperatures ranged from just 1 to 5°C in many eastern areas south of Kaikoura.
  • 11–13 and 20–22 August
    Cold southeasterlies brought snowfall settling down to 400-500 m in Canterbury and Otago from the 11th–13th, and 20th–22nd.
  • 28 September
    Cold southeasterlies affected Canterbury on the 28th, with snow depths of about 30 cm settling down to 400 m. Some lambs died of exposure. Snowfall was up to 50 cm deep on the Lewis, Porters, and Burkes Pass roads
  • 4–5 October
    Snow fell on the Rimutaka and Orongorongo Ranges, and settled down to 800 m on the central North Island plateau, with flurries in Taihape, Taumarunui, and the Wellington hill suburbs of Brooklyn, Karori and Broadmeadows. On the 5th, snow fell down to 200 m in the South Island high country of Canterbury, Otago, and Southland, where thousands of newborn lambs died of exposure. Snow depths of 20–40 cm were reported near the Canterbury foothills, with 10 cm depths in many other inland areas. Part of SH1 north of Dunedin was closed by 10–15 cm of snow.
  • 13–14 and 27 November
    Snow settled on the Rimutaka Road down to Kaitoke, north of Wellington over the 13th and 14th.

Record low monthly rainfall and low soil moisture levels

January

It was dry over much of the country. Rainfall was less than half of normal in the southwest of the North Island and Hawke’s Bay, and about a quarter in the Horowhenua. Half normal rainfall also occurred in central Marlborough. As a consequence significant soil moisture deficits developed in Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, the Manawatu and Horowhenua, and persisted in Marlborough.

February

Waikato, Taranaki, and Nelson all received less than a quarter (25 percent) of their normal February rainfall, while less than half (50 percent) of normal rain fell in northwestern parts of Northland, and most central and south western North Island areas. Totals were less than 75 percent of average in southern Wairrarapa, north Canterbury, and west Otago. Significant soil moisture deficits affected a substantial proportion of the country. In Hawke’s Bay, some farmers carted in water and bought extra feed or used supplements. For much of the month, the dry conditions resulted in total fire bans in Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, and Bay of Plenty, with restrictions applied in most other areas of New Zealand. Inadequate rainfall meant that significant soil moisture deficits persisted in most eastern regions from Gisborne to Central Otago, as well as in Nelson, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Wanganui, Manawatu, and Horowhenua, and affected most other North Island regions for most of the month. In eastern Northland, and Coromandel, it was extremely dry in February until the 25th, with some locations recording less than 10 mm up until that date.

March

Very little rainfall occurred at many locations in the south and west of the North Island, from Wanganui to Wellington, and throughout much of Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago, until after the 27th. Until then, most stations in these regions recorded totals of 10 mm or less. Christchurch Airport and Lauder had no measurable rainfall in this period. Parts of Manawatu, Horowhenua, and Kapiti had not had a day’s rainfall exceeding 10 mm since Christmas or before. Substantial rainfall, totalling 50–90 mm, occurred throughout north Canterbury from the 28–30. For the month, rainfall was less than 25 percent of normal in Central Otago, and less than 50 percent of average at most locations in the southern half of the North Island and over much of the South Island. Significant soil moisture deficits continued throughout the north and east of the South Island, from Nelson to Otago, as well as the southwest North Island from Wanganui to Wellington, and Wairarapa. End-of-month rainfall resulted in major relief for Nelson and north Canterbury soils.

April

Extremely low rainfall, about 33 percent of normal, occurred in most of the South Island west coast and some alpine areas. It was also dry, with rainfall less than 50 percent of normal, in most other western regions from Waikato to Fiordland, as well as in central Wairarapa, Wellington, central Marlborough, Otago and Southland. Totals were also below normal in south Auckland, Taranaki, and King Country. Significant soil moisture deficits continued throughout the east of the South Island, from south Canterbury to Central Otago, as well as in the southwest North Island from Wanganui to the Kapiti coast.

May

Significant soil moisture deficits continued in Marlborough, north and Central Otago. However, more regular rainfall brought relief to other eastern South Island regions, as well as the southwestern North Island.

October

Soil moisture deficits increased throughout Otago and South Canterbury, being significant in some inland areas. Deficits also appeared in Marlborough, and Hawke’s Bay.

November

Soil moisture deficits spread to north Canterbury and Gisborne, and increased throughout Otago, inland South Canterbury, central Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay where they were significant in some areas.

December

Soil moisture deficits were severe throughout Otago, Canterbury and central Marlborough; and significant in the Wairarapa, Nelson and parts of Northland.

Some locations measured record low rainfall at various times during the year. These were:

Location Rainfall (mm) Percentage of normal Year records began Comments
January
Palmerston North 21 33 1928 3rd lowest
Whakatu 9 30 1983 Lowest
February
Cape Reinga 8 13 1920 Well below average
Kawerau 33 27 1955 2nd equal lowest
Port Taharoa 20 29 1985 2nd lowest
New Plymouth Airport 15 15 1944 3rd lowest
Levin 14 22 1896 3rd lowest
Nelson Airport 5 9 1941 3rd lowest
Chatham Island 17 30 1951 3rd lowest
March
East Taratahi 16 33 1973 Lowest
Haast 106 29 1941 3rd lowest
Queenstown Airport 16 23 1969 Lowest
Clyde 9 21 1983 Lowest
Invercargill Airport 33 35 1940 3rd lowest
Nugget Point 20 24 1930 3rd lowest
April
Pukekohe 27 24 1970 2nd lowest
Levin 21 28 1896 3rd equal lowest
Paraparaumu Airport 17 21 1945 3rd lowest
Westport Airport 48 25 1944 2nd lowest
Hokitika Airport 77 33 1964 2nd lowest
Reefton 23 14 1961 Lowest
Haast 101 37 1981 Lowest
Milford Sound 216 38 1930 2nd lowest
Mt Cook Village 74 22 1930 2nd lowest
May
Rangiora 13 24 1965 2nd lowest
July
Kawerau 30 19 1954 Lowest
Rotorua Airport 23 18 1964 Lowest
Taupo Airport 23 27 1976 Lowest
Turangi 33 22 1968 2nd lowest
Motueka, Riwaka 21 13 1943 3rd lowest
Nelson Airport 9 10 1941 2nd lowest
Nelson, Appleby 9 9 1932 3rd equal lowest
Blenheim Airport 11 15 1941 Lowest
Timaru Airport 8 17 1957 2nd equal lowest
August
Matamata, Hinuera 46 35 1966 2nd lowest
Pukekohe 24 21 1970 Lowest
Hamilton, Ruakura 45 39 1905 2nd equal lowest
Hamilton Airport 32 28 1935 Lowest
Turangi 50 33 1968 Lowest
Palmerston N. Airport 20 25 1943 Lowest
Levin 19 20 1895 Lowest
Wanganui 20 28 1890 3rd equal lowest
Wanaka Airport 19 33 1992 Lowest
Campbell Island 37 36 1941 Lowest
Chatham Island 21 26 1951 Lowest
November
Mokohinau Island 15 26 1934 2nd lowest
Lauder 13 31 1942 Lowest
December
Winchmore 1 1 1947 Lowest
Rangiora 4 7 1965 Lowest
Darfield 5 8 1919 Lowest
Christchurch Airport 1 2 1943 Lowest
Christchurch Gardens 1 2 1863 Lowest
Lincoln 1 2 1881 Lowest
Le Bons Bay 6 10 1990 Lowest
Timaru Airport 7 15 1956 Lowest
Middlemarch 1 2 1916 Lowest

Floods and high rainfall

There were at least 20 heavy rainfall events during 2003, of which nine produced floods, mainly in the North Island. The event that produced the Paekakariki landslides in early October was the most destructive.

  • 8–9 January
    High rainfall, totalling 100–200 mm, was recorded throughout eastern Northland, Coromandel, Waikato, and Bay of Plenty between the 4th and 10th. The wettest days were the 8th and 9th, when many locations recorded between 60 and 120 mm. The rainfall was also accompanied by wind, and resulted in surface flooding in these regions, especially on the Coromandel, creating washouts in holiday parks, disrupting the plans of many campers.
  • 27 February
  • High rainfall occurred in eastern Northland, Coromandel, and Eastland toward the end of the month, and some houses in Paeroa were evacuated as a result of flooding on the 27th. Some rainfall totals were:
    Location Rainfall total (mm) Date of occurrence
    Whitianga Airport 123 25–26 Feb.
    Paeroa 280 26–27 Feb.
    Hicks Bay 191 26–27 Feb.
  • 9–12 and 27–28 March
    Heavy rainfall occurred in the Bay of Islands, parts of Auckland, Coromandel, and areas of Gisborne during the second week of the month, and in Northland during the last week. Surface flooding occurred in parts of Northland and Auckland on the 27th and 28th, being widespread in Kaitaia. Rainfall totals recorded for these events were:
    Location Rainfall total (mm) Date of occurrence
    Kerikeri Airport 178 9–10 Mar.
    Owairaka, Auckland 129 10–11 Mar.
    Whitianga Airport 108 10–11 Mar.
    Gisborne Airport 83 11–12 Mar.
    Kaitaia 151 27 Mar.
    Kerikeri Airport 116 27 Mar.
    Kaikohe 126 27 Mar.
  • 5–6 and 19–20 April
    Significant rainfall (at least 50 mm) occurred throughout Nelson on the 5th, and in Bay of Plenty, the Gisborne high country, and Canterbury on the 6th. Widespread surface flooding was reported throughout Nelson after 20–30 mm of rain fell in an hour in the evening. Kawerau recorded torrential rainfall totalling 142.2 mm in 6 hours during the afternoon on the 6th, at rates up to 39 mm per hour. At Paengaroa (southeast of Te Puke) an unofficial rainfall total of 278 mm on the 6th was measured. High rainfall (more than 100 mm in places) and surface flooding occurred in Northland and Coromandel townships on the 19th and 20th. At least 15 houses were affected in Coromandel township.
  • 1–2 and 21–24 May
    Heavy rainfall with northerlies occurred in the Southern Alps on the 1st, totalling about 180 mm at nearby Mt. Cook Village and Arthurs Pass. The same trough produced significant rainfall (at least 75 mm) in and north of the Bay of Islands on the 2nd, with 110 mm recorded at Kaitaia Airport. Another northerly event occurred later in the month, with rainfall totals of at least 75 mm (and almost 100 mm in parts of the Bay of Islands) affecting Northland, King Country, and Tongariro on the 21st. Easterlies resulted in rainfall totalling almost 100 mm in parts of Hawke’s Bay over the 23rd–24th.
  • 3, 8–9 and 28–30 June
    High rainfall occurred in Manawatu and Nelson on the 3rd, and was widespread over much of the North Island over the 8th and 9th (with surface flooding in Auckland and Hamilton) and again between the 15th and 17th. Floods and land slips occurred in the Golden Bay-Nelson region during high rainfall (100 mm or more) over the 28th and 29th (207 mm at Takaka and 170 mm at Appleby). High rainfall occurred in Wellington on the 30th, with surface flooding in places.
  • 21–22 August
    Heavy rainfall occurred in Northland, Coromandel and along the southern Wairarapa coast over the 21st–22nd August. Whitianga Airport recorded rainfall totalling 109 mm for the 24 hours to 2 am on the 21st. Palliser, Ngawihi recorded rainfall of 105 mm for the 24 hours to 2 am on the 22nd.
  • 1, 3, 13 and 27–29 September
    Heavy rainfall totalling at least 70 mm occurred over the central North Island, including Taranaki on the 1st. Other heavy rainfall events occurred in Golden Bay on the 3rd and 13th, with about 70 mm. A depression produced high rainfall over the North Island from the 27th–28th, with 1-day falls totalling at least 70 mm in Taranaki, Tongariro, and the Gisborne high-country. Parts of Taranaki recorded more than 100 mm of rainfall in the 12 hours to noon on the 27th. There were numerous reports of surface flooding and heavy rainfall throughout the North Island, which contributed to isolated landslides and treacherous driving conditions for many motorists. The same depression produced westerly gales and close to 100 km/h wind gusts in Auckland and parts of Bay of Plenty on the 28th and 29th. Some power lines were blown down. In Whangamata (Coromandel), a boy suffered burns, damage to sight and hearing loss after being struck by lightning on the 28th.
  • 3–4 and 11–12 October
    High-intensity rainfall associated with the approach of an active frontal system occurred on 3 October, after weeks of wet weather, contributing to a huge land and mudslide across SH1 at Paekakariki. Exceptionally high 48-hour rainfall totals in excess of 200–300 mm were recorded in the Tararua Ranges over 3–4 October. Other high rainfall totals, exceeding 100 mm, recorded during the event of 3 October were:
    Location Rainfall (mm)
    Motu 177
    Taumarunui 101
    Stratford 116
    Paekakariki Hill 119
    Wallaceville 108

    This storm resulted in the closure of SH1 and main trunk railway north of Wellington. Other routes out of Wellington were also closed, with the cancellation of two inter-island ferry crossings. In the north, a woman was swept downstream in a flooded ford near Coroglen (in the Coromandel) on the 4th. A state of emergency was declared in Paekakariki as sewage and contaminated mud and water (up to waist-deep) spread through houses, of which more than 20 houses were evacuated, and 8 left uninhabitable. Almost every business in Paekakariki was flooded, and several cars were covered by mud and rubble. Ten thousand cu m of gravel poured down Paekakariki Hill during the event. Initial damages caused by the event were estimated to be at least $2.5 million for Paekakariki and another $3 million for the remainder of New Zealand. Further high rainfall, totalling at least 70 mm occurred in Northland on the 11 October, followed by rainfall totalling about 100 mm in eastern Bay of Plenty, the Gisborne high country and coastal areas of southern Wairarapa on the 12th.

  • 22 and 26 November
    Heavy rainfall, totalling 353 mm, was recorded at Milford Sound for the 48 hours to 9am on the 22nd. High rainfall totalling 60–100 mm occurred in Waikato, the Gisborne high country, and coastal Wairarapa on the 26th, and in Motueka on the 27th.
  • 5 December
    Milford Sound recorded rainfall totalling 260 mm.

Some locations experienced unusually high rainfall at various times during the year. These were:

Location Rainfall (mm) Percentage of normal for the month Year records began Comments
January
Whitianga Airport 237 213 1991 Highest
Paeroa 204 250 1914 3rd highest
February
Pareoa 334 389 1991 Highest
Hicks Bay 246 333 1991 Highest
March
Kaitaia Observatory 226 263 1986 Highest
Kerikeri Airport 395 237 1978 2nd highest
Kaikohe 245 186 1973 Highest
April
Le Bons Bay 163 187 1984 Highest
June
Nelson Airport 198 249 1941 Highest
Nelson, Appleby 249 293 1932 Highest
Reefton 357 207 1961 2nd highest
August
Palliser, Ngawihi 231 210 1989 Highest
September
Taupo Airport 143 191 1976 Highest
Motu 494 254 1991 Highest
Napier Airport 148 211 1950 Highest
Mahia 163 227 1991 Highest
East Taratahi 173 194 1972 2nd highest
Taumarunui 323 231 1913 Highest
New Plymouth Airport 238 207 1944 2nd highest
Lower Retaruke 314 226 1966 Highest
Normanby 191 193 1986 Highest
Waiouru 191 193 1950 Highest
Ohakune 304 221 1993 Highest
Wanganui 145 219 1890 Highest
Palmerston North Airport 149 182 1943 3rd highest
Palmerston North 161 201 1928 3rd highest
Wellington Airport 173 212 1960 2nd highest
Winchmore 131 280 1947 3rd highest
Timaru Airport 89 260 1956 3rd highest
Oamaru Airport 82 329 1941 2nd highest
October
Motu 392 233 1991 Highest
November
Hamilton Airport 185 206 1922 2nd highest
Tiwai Point 158 205 1970 Highest
December
Rotorua Airport 231 180 1963 2nd highest

Tornadoes, gales, high winds, and rough seas

  • 17 June – tornado
    High winds associated with a tornado resulted in property damage in Greymouth on the 17th.
  • 9–10 June
    Southerly gales buffeted Wellington over the 9th and 10th of June.
  • 18 and 25 September
    Gale force northwesterlies buffeted Manawatu, Wellington, Kapiti, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland on the 18th, with winds gusting to 126 km/h at Paraparaumu Airport, 141 km/h at Tiwai Point, 169 km/h at Castlepoint, and 176 km/h at South West Cape. The winds lifted some roofs, smashed windows and resulted in fallen trees in parts of Wairarapa and Wellington. Airport hangars at Paraparaumu Airport also suffered damage. In the Wairarapa, six trucks were blown over by the wind, and power lines damaged. Gale force northwesterlies buffeted Wellington, Kapiti, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland on the 25th, with winds gusting to 122 km/h at Mt. Cook Village, and 135 km/h at Southwest Cape. Westerly gales and close to 100 km/h wind gusts occurred in Auckland and parts of Bay of Plenty on the 28th and 29th.
  • 3 October
    Gale-force northerly winds with gusts between 130 and 140 km/h in and about Cook Strait along with high seas caused the cancellation of two inter-island ferry sailings.
  • 2 November – tornado
    A tornado ripped off a room and blew the roof off a house in Westport at about 4am.
  • 16 November
    Hurricane force northerlies (with mean speeds as high as 132 km/h) gusted to 183 km/h at South West Cape (Stewart Island).

Electrical storms

This is the second consecutive year with a person injured by lightning.

  • 28 September – person struck by lightning
    In Whangamata (Coromandel), a boy suffered burns, damage to sight and hearing loss after being struck by lightning.

Severe or damaging hail storms

  • September – golf ball-sized hailstones
    Golf ball-sized hailstones occurred at Coal Creek (Westland) on the 16th, and in Manderville (Southland) on the 26th.

Sunshine extremes

Some locations experienced extremes of sunshine hours at various times during the year. March was exceptionally sunny compared with average in central and southern New Zealand. Invercargill Airport recorded five unusually sunny months. Monthly sunshine extremes for 2003 were:

Location Sunshine (hours) Percentage of normal Year records began Comments
February
Christchurch 266 138 1930 Highest
Dunedin, Musselburgh 219 144 1948 Highest
Invercargill Airport 215 134 1932 2nd highest
March
Paraparaumu Airport 280 150 1953 Highest
Wellington, Kelburn 267 144 1928 Highest
Arapito 226 148 1980 Highest
Hokitika Airport 235 145 1964 2nd highest
Nelson Airport 273 135 1949 2nd highest
Dunedin, Musselburgh 210 158 1948 Highest
Invercargill Airport 178 135 1932 2nd equal highest
June
Dunedin, Musselburgh 119 132 1948 2nd highest
Invercargill Airport 100 133 1932 3rd equal highest
July
Nelson Airport 195 126 1949 3rd highest
August
Invercargill Airport 161* 134 1932 3rd highest
September
Queenstown 116 73 1930 2nd Lowest
October
Invercargill 208 133 1932 3rd highest
November
Nelson Airport 284 128 1948 3rd highest
Christchurch Airport 272 130 1949 Highest
December
Auckland,Whenuapai 177 78 1954 3rd lowest
Hamilton, Ruakura 170 75 1936 3rd lowest
Christchurch Airport 274 125 1949 4th highest
Lake Tekapo 311 122 1928 2nd highest

* estimated (missing 2 days)

For further information, please contact:

Dr Jim Salinger – Principal Scientist, Climate
NIWA National Climate Centre – Auckland
Phone +64 9 375 2053
j.salinger@niwa.co.nz

Stuart Burgess – Climatologist
NIWA National Climate Centre – Wellington
Phone +64 4 386 0569
s.burgess@niwa.co.nz

Geoff Baird – Communications Manager
Phone +64 4 386 0543
g.baird@niwa.co.nz

Acknowledgement of NIWA as the source is required.