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2019 NZ’s fourth warmest year

The global trend of warming weather continued with the final year of the decade setting record average temperatures in many parts of the country

The warming trend continued last year which clocked in as New Zealand’s fourth warmest since 1909 with an average temperature of 13.37°C.

NIWA’s annual climate summary shows it’s now been 35 months since New Zealand had a month with below average temperatures. 

Five of the past seven years have been among New Zealand’s hottest on record.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology also released annual figures for Australia today. Its data shows 2019 was Australia's hottest and driest year. 

The hottest year on record for New Zealand was 2016 with a nationwide average temperature of 13.45°C. The years 1998 and 2018 are tied in second place with an average of 13.41°C.

That’s how a warming climate works, we see ups and downs but the chances of a warm year are increasing all the time. – James Renwick

Victoria University of Wellington Professor James Renwick said the warm trend shows New Zealand is as affected by climate change as the rest of the world. 

"The year 2019 was our fourth warmest on record. In the past 20 years, only four had annual mean temperatures below the 1981-2010 average, so 80 percent of those years were warmer than average. In the first 20 years of the record (1909-1928), only four (20 percent) had annual mean temperatures above the 1981-2010 average. That’s how a warming climate works, we see ups and downs but the chances of a warm year are increasing all the time.

"There were some cold spells in 2019, with a dozen daily low temperature records broken. But they were far outweighed by high temperatures, with over 100 new daily high temperature records broken."

Last year started with an unusually warm January, partly driven by warmer sea temperatures around coastlines. The heat was also felt inland with a record temperature of 38.4°C recorded at Hanmer Forest.

By February a 40-day dry spell in Nelson contributed to the fires in Tasman District. The battle to put it out was the country’s largest ever aerial firefight, requiring 23 helicopters and two planes at its peak. The 40-day stretch with no rain was the fourth longest dry spell the area had seen since 1862.

The heat continued into March which clocked in as New Zealand’s second equal warmest March in history.

Winter months were warmer too, with July the second warmest on record.

November 2019 was the hottest November since records began as a northwesterly blew warm air from Australia to New Zealand. Kawerau recorded a high of 34.6°C.

During the year temperatures of 35°C and above were recorded in Hanmer Forest, Waiau, Lake Tekapo and Blenheim.

Of the six main centres, Tauranga was the warmest, Dunedin was the coolest, Wellington was the wettest, Christchurch was the driest, Auckland was the sunniest, and Dunedin was the least sunny.

Dusty and soggy

Much of the North Island experienced a dry year, while parts of the South Island drowned in near-record setting deluges.

Below normal rainfall was recorded across Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty as well as parts of the Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Marlborough. 

Some of NIWA’s monitoring stations had their driest year on record. These included Kaitaia, Whangārei, Hamilton, Masterton and Auckland’s Western Springs.

In Westland and western Southland it was a different story. Manapouri had its second wettest year in history and Hokitika and Milford their fourth wettest. 

A trend of fewer windy days than normal continued with 2019 being in the fifth year in a row with fewer than usual windy days experienced between Auckland and Christchurch. Winds of over 62km/hr were only recorded on 29 days. 

Image: Supplied

The big events of 2019 

There were a number of notable weather events in 2019, some of these are listed below.

January
- A strong southerly change damaged the electricity network across Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago. 

February
- A dry spell in Tasman contributed to a large scrub fire which burned 2300 hectares and led to the evacuation of 1000 people from their homes. The fire which started on February 5 was not contained until February 24. It prompted a Civil Defence State of Emergency for the area.

March
- Extremely heavy rainfall occurred in the western South Island on 25 to 27 March. A state of Emergency was declared. Floodwaters destroyed the bridge across the Waihou River bridge, the link between the Franz Joseph and the Fox Glacier. The rain exposed a historic rubbish dump sending an estimated 135,000 kilograms of rubbish down the Fox River and along the coastline. The clean up took until August with volunteers, the New Zealand Defence Force and other helpers collecting 14,000 bags worth of rubbish. 

April
- Heavy rain hit Christchurch and Canterbury, flooding 27 streets and causing a slip on SH73.
- Strong winds in the east of Canterbury damaged powerlines in the Banks Peninsula

May
- Rain flooded parts of SH6. The Buller River reached an alarm point, forcing the closure of SH6 at the Inangahua Junction.

June
- Northland recorded 3200 lightning strikes. A microburst tore roofs from buildings and caravans in Coopers Beach.

July
- Auckland residents were urged to use water carefully as water storage was 25 percent lower than usual for the time of year.
- A tornado near New Plymouth damaged buildings and trees.
- 5500 lightning strikes were recorded over central New Zealand, two Air New Zealand airplanes were struck. 

August
- Heavy rain in Otago and South Canterbury caused flooding which closed SH1 between Ōamaru and Timaru.
- Strong winds and a deep low pressure system generate large swells along the west coast of New Zealand. This caused coastal erosion of up to 10 metres in Greymouth.
- Strong winds on August 11 and 12 in Auckland tore part of the roof off The Cloud on Queen's Wharf and toppled shipping containers into the port.
- Snow fell across several parts of the South Island closing a number of roads. During this event snow was recorded in Greymouth, Hokitika, Kumara, Moana, Runanga and Serpentine Beach, a particularly  uncommon occurrence for these areas. 
- Several tornadoes were reported in Taranaki, with damage to buildings and powerlines recorded, and a person hurt.

September
- Rain in the Coromandel Peninsula closed sections of SH25. Slips cut off areas and forced evacuations.

October
- Strong winds in the Coromandel toppled trees and cut power to around 2000 homes and businesses.
- A severe thunderstorm bought hail up to three centimetres deep to the Hawke's Bay, damaging orchard fruit.

November
- A tornado struck Christchurch damaging buildings and trees and causing power outages. 
- Significant hail was reported in Timaru

December
- Rain caused significant issues for many parts of the South Island and lower North Island. The lower reaches of the Rangitaha River flooded and a local State of Emergency was declared in Timaru, with evacuations occurring.
- Strong winds in Wellington forced the cancellation of around 40 flights to and from the capital.
- Over 300,000 lightning strikes were recorded around New Zealand and offshore. The strikes set trees on fire in Upper Hutt and Martinborough. 

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