25 Dec 2014

No favourites for Mother Nature

12:39 pm on 25 December 2014

2014 - Mother Nature brought thousands of Aucklanders down to earth this year, unleashing wild weather to leave them powerless and in the dark - a fate usually reserved for their provincial cousins.

Of the six main centres, Auckland was the warmest and wettest over last winter.

Storm clouds over Auckland Photo: PHOTO NZ

She did not even wait for winter before unleashing her fury; the City of Sails was hit by winds strong enough to down trees and power-lines just a few weeks in to the New Year.

About 5500 Auckland region households were left without power then but come September the number nearly doubled to 10,000 - and wind was once again the culprit.

But the September storm was not confined to Auckland; gusts up to 140km/h were recorded in Northland and Wellington, forcing ferries, flights and trains to be cancelled in the capital.

Bluff battered

It was not only the North Island which was battered by the wind in 2014, with the Bluff Oyster Festival being cancelled when high winds started to lift marquees in May.

Luckily no such events were planned for the Mt Cook aerodrome in the Southern Alps in early November, which was hit by gusts of up to 200kmh - a force which would leave even wind-seasoned Wellingtonians shaking in their boots.

Wind also lashed West Coasters during the year; the remnants of Australia's Cyclone Ita hit much of the country but saved its worst for the nuggety folks of the Coast, delivering gusts of up to 160kmh - as well as flood-inducing rain.

Fire crews on miners hall.

The April storm lifted the roof on the Runanga Miners' Hall in Greymouth. Photo: Paul Kearns

One in five homes in the Buller district was damaged by the strong gales, and up to 60 homes and other buildings on the West Coast were damaged, with about 10 of those needing to be demolished.

Ita made her presence felt through much of the country but it was perhaps the unlucky group of 34 Air New Zealand passengers who tried to fly from Wellington to Nelson who have the most interesting tale to tell.

The plane was diverted to Christchurch and the passengers were put on a bus to Nelson but the rough weather forced them to divert, and they ended up trapped by landslides - with no toilet and no way of letting the world know where they were - on State Highway 1 north of Kaikoura.

Read about the long trip to Nelson

But, as the saying goes, it is an ill wind that blows no good, with Parliament in June okaying the harvesting of some of the tens of thousands of native trees felled by the cyclone.

Tasman kiwifruit growers and orchardists are struggling to find the silver lining in a November hail storm, which reportedly caused up to $40 million of damage and affected about 40 percent of growers.

Christchurch hit yet again

In Christchurch - the city hammered in recent years by earthquakes, snow storms and flooding - one woman told of her children being scared of the rain thanks to repeated flooding post-quakes.

Roads were reopening on Thursday but floodwaters lingered in St Albans.

Flooding in Christchurch's St Albans. Photo: RNZ / Nicola Grigg

Jo Byrne says her street in suburban Mairehau dropped 50cm after the quakes, causing her house to flood each time there is heavy rain - and it was certainly heavy in March, during what was billed as a one-in-100-year flood.

"I can't take my children back to that house - they're scared every time it rains. Every other kid in Christchurch is just scared of earthquakes and mine are scared of rain," Ms Byrne says.

All weather in the north

Rain also hit in the so-called winterless north, with Northland starting the year with the longest, sunniest summer in years followed by a long, dry autumn.

A welfare centre has been set up after flooding in Moerewa.

Flooding in Moerewa, in the Far North Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

But in July the weather gods turned nasty and the region suffered one of the worst storms in many years, with days of unrelenting rain and high winds causing floods and slips, downing power lines and wrecking roads.

Hundreds of homes were without electricity for days and highway repairs are still under way, with some not expected to be completed for years.

Far less damaging but much more dramatic was an upper North Island storm in October, which created more than 22,000 lightning strikes.

Storms to cost

All this bad weather comes at a cost, and the delights dished up this year has the Insurance Council predicting 2014 will be one of the costliest ever for weather damage.

Last year's insurance bill of $175 million was the second most expensive year since 1968 - and this year's totals were $134 million by September. Fingers crossed for a warm, settled end to the year.

Christchurch City Council faces flood prevention options costing almost $18 million.

Christchurch City Council faces flood prevention options costing almost $18 million. Photo: PHOTO NZ