As even the most loyal Wellingtonian will admit, the weather in Wellington is fickle. Which is not too surprising given that we sit on the shores of Cook Strait where the Tasman Sea tangles with the Pacific Ocean. Good summers are treasured and bad summers with too much wind and varying but often cold temperatures are the norm. It is rare to get good weather over the Xmas/New Year break. The weather does tend to settle down in March and good spells of late summer weather can last into April and even May. But by then everyone is back at work or at school.
The summer of 2017/18 has been the outstanding exception and will probably go down as the best summer in living memory – and this article is being written in mid-February so we still have March and April to come. But records have already been broken and there may be more to come.
November and December are often disappointing months with the odd good period alternating with that darned Wellington cloud and wind. The weather usually does not settle until well into January and sometimes it does not settle at all. The summer of 2016/17 was like that. We had the odd sunny day but it was mostly cloudy, cool and windy.
The summer of 2017/18 broke with those trends and broke a few records along the way. It started in November – normally a write-off of a month – and has continued through to early February – albeit with a few bad patches along the way. Xmas itself was not the greatest and there has been quite a bit of rain in February. But the weather experts say there is more hot weather to come before autumn and winter hit. And to be fair Wellington and the Kapiti Coast have had the best of what has been going. In other parts of New Zealand, there has been rain of tropical intensity leading to unprecedented flooding.
The gist of the expert’s explanation of “why” we have been blessed with this summer is that a lump of stale tropical air has settled over New Zealand leading to still, hot conditions, and this, in turn, can probably be traced back to the strong El Nino/La Nina pattern of 2016/17. Weather is a complex business and there are undoubtedly other factors at play also.
On the Kapiti Coast where we spend most of our summer, the results – whatever the cause – have been spectacular. For a start, the water has been unusually warm and I started swimming in the sea in November – normally I don’t get my feet properly wet until January.
Throughout the whole of the summer, there have been truly magnificent sunsets, at times lighting up the whole of the sky. And at times it has been too hot and humid during the day to do anything else but swim and seek out the shade.
But the most memorable aspect has been the ability to sit outside until late at night, enjoying the still and warm air, and watching the waves gently coming in on the beach. A great deal of wine has been consumed in the process which has been shared with friends, neighbours and family. I have just never known such a succession of absolutely still and balmy nights.
The downside of the humid tropical air has been some rain of unusual intensity, particularly up north. But by and large, this has missed the Kapiti Coast, although we have had an unusual amount of rain for February. Looking out the windows the lawns are green and you can almost see them growing – normally they are parched brown at this time of the year.
It is anyone’s guess as to how long these unusual weather patterns will continue but as every good Wellingtonian knows “enjoy it while you can” because it won’t last. The fear is that we will pay for all of this by having a particularly nasty winter but that is something to worry about on another day.
It is interesting to speculate on whether the weather patterns we are experiencing are just a one-off or part of a permanent change in the climate. There is no doubt that New Zealand has got slightly warmer over the past 50 years or so and NIWA have already calculated that the length of our winter has shrunk significantly as a result. But my bet would be that this summer is a bit of a one-off because it has been so unusual in character – but time will tell. I think I will still be stacking the wood box for the wood burner ready for the winter!!
By Bas Walker
This is another of Bas Walker’s posts on GrownUps. Please look out for his articles, containing his Beachside Ponderings.