19 Oct 2015

Intense El Nino underway

4:37 pm on 19 October 2015

NIWA forecaster Chris Brandilino says soils in many parts of the country have been drying out over the past fortnight as El Nino looks like being the second most intense since 1950.

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Photo: 123RF

Mr Brandilino said heavy rain and flooding in parts of the country such as Hawke's Bay and Gisborne three weeks ago means soil moisture levels are not yet unusally or extremely dry.

"Once we start to trend towards severely or extremely drier than normal soils for this time of the year - ie, Hawke's Bay, Gisborne - soils were quite wet in fact... due to flooding but with the wind and the sun, the longer days and the lack of rain, that's certainly changed," Mr Brandilino said.

He said Gisborne and Hawke's Bay were drying out.

"Lower North Island too, that's one area too that's looking like a bit of a hotspot. Over the past couple of weeks, the really dry conditions have started to push and evolve and expand farther north towards Wellington and getting close to the Kapiti Coast, so we're starting to see some change there."

Mr Brandilino said change across the Cook Strait seems to bisect Christchurch.

"North of Christchurch is an area (with) very dry soils and also south of Christchurch into northern and north-eastern Otago, (there are) some very dry soils for this time of year."

He said it's too soon to say whether the country was on track for a very severe El Nino.

"The analogy I give people is we've just passed half-time... and we are in the second half, but it is premature to give the final score," Mr Brandilino said, employing a rugby analogy.

"But boy, we know how things are tracking and if you look at just past half-time for other strong El Nino events... so far we are second only to '97 and '98 in terms of intensity. So it's premature to say where we will finish, but when you look at El Ninos for this time (of) year - because we do know El Ninos generally peak late November to early January, somewhere in there - we're about second in terms of intensity since 1950."

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