Surface Flooding on Jones Place in Masterton on July 13. PHOTO/FILE

BECKIE WILSON

beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

If you thought 2017 was a year of extreme weather in Wairarapa, it is something the region will have to get used to.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) yesterday released its annual climate summary for 2017, describing it as a ‘year of extremes’.

The region experienced a ‘topsy-turvy rollercoaster’ with periods of heavy rain, followed by extreme heat that plunged the region into meteorological drought by December, NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll said.

It all follows the trend of climatic changes NIWA predicted for the region in its report last year.

Wairarapa was expected to be hit with extreme climatic changes over the next 20 to 70 years with prolonged droughts and hotter temperatures.

Looking towards the Tararua Range, north of Featherston on December 11. PHOTO/FILE

While last year’s weather events did not break any rainfall or temperature records for the region, the whole country recorded its fifth warmest on record, Mr Noll said.

Wairarapa’s overnight temperatures were milder than normal.

Masterton recorded an annual average overnight low temperature of 8.3 degrees Celsius – 1.9C above average.

That’s the third warmest annual overnight average in 111 years.

“With a change in climate, that’s actually one of the things we expect to see more of — warmer nights. Globally that’s a common thing,” Mr Noll said.

Masterton enjoyed 2157 hours of sunshine, while Martinborough clocked up 1932 hours.

The country’s sunshine hours were near normal, with Nelson the sunniest region on 2633 hours.

Richmond (2633 hours), Blenheim (2605) and Napier (2504) were the sunniest spots in the country.

While most of the region was swamped by several wet months, some parts received their annual average rainfall by October.

Masterton recorded 899mm — far short of its wettest year on record in 1953 with 1324mm — and Martinborough 848mm.

In July, the region was hit with severe wind and heavy rain that flooded Jones Pl in Masterton and cut power to more than 2000 properties across the region.

Over 100mm fell in rural Eketahuna, completely covering pastureland and causing creeks and rivers to rise.

It was an especially wet year in Oamaru which had its second wettest year on record — 813mm of rain — and its wettest winter ever.

Wairarapa began to appear on the New Zealand Drought Index in early December.

Masterton recorded its second driest November in 61 years, collecting just 8mm of rain.

Martinborough had its third driest November in 63 years with 6mm.

While it seemed like the region was drenched after each rain period, there was a long stretch of time when the region received no rain.

“Had November and December been normal or above normal, it may have been a different story,” Mr Noll said.

While 2017 was not quite as warm as the previous year, it presented conditions that were consistent with climatic changes predicted for the region.

“Overall, we know that climate change just sits in the background — while no one event is attributable to climate change, every event, heat wave or heavy rain event has some climate change component in it.

“Overall the year 2017 was pretty consistent with that.”

Communities need to be prepared

As 2017 leaves behind a handful of extreme weather events that affected Wairarapa, a civil defence ministry regional manager says communities need to be prepared.

Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO) regional manager Jeremy Holmes said responding to extreme weather events was not just the responsibility of civil defence.

Civil Defence needed to work with communities to increase their preparedness and resilience, and help reduce hazards, so that each community was self-sufficient when significant events occurred, Mr Holmes said.

“[Climate change] is bringing more extreme events that are occurring more frequently, and we need to be prepared to respond when required.”

“But this is not just Civil Defence having to respond, it’s about communities being able to respond. [They] have to be prepared, and we have to be able to prepare to assist communities.”

Issue for both rural and urban dwellers

Rural Wairarapa endured a tough year of weather extremes from flooded pastures to dried out soils threatening livestock last year.

But at the end of the day, climate change was an issue for both rural and urban communities, Wairarapa Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairman William Beetham said.

What was needed were discussions around water storage for residential and rural properties, along with being open to different farming systems to adapt to the future climate, he said.

“Farmers do become resilient to adverse weather, and are adaptable,” he said.

“But what we need to do is be innovative and look at what resources that we do have to combat these extremes of climate changes, and to better manage our environment.”

2017 WEATHER FACTBOX

A year of Wairarapa weather:

Sunshine hours: Masterton 2157, Martinborough 1932.

Annual rainfall: Masterton 899mm, Martinborough 848mm.

Mean temperature: Masterton 12.6C, Martinborough 12.9C.

Mean maximum temperature: Masterton 18.2C, Martinborough 18C.

Records:

Castlepoint recorded its highest extreme temperature in 45 years of 29.7 degrees Celsius on December 5.

Martinborough recorded its lowest daily temperature in 31 years of 1.8C on February 9.

Masterton recorded an annual average overnight low temperature of 8.3C – 1.9C above average – it’s third warmest annual overnight average in 111 years.