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Region entering a long dry spell

After a sodden winter featuring months of relentless rain, weather mapping is hinting that Wairarapa growers and producers should be preparing for the opposite extreme.

The seasonal climate outlook for September to November prepared by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research’s [Niwa] indicates spring rainfall is “most likely to be below normal”.

Niwa’s drought forecasting dashboard hones in on this projection, indicating the next 35 days will likely be quite dry.

The dashboard’s three scenarios are a way of showing the range of different weather outlooks the region could face over the next month, using a marriage of artificial intelligence and sub-seasonal weather forecasting.

Niwa meteorologist Tristan Meyers said that looking at the similarities between three scenarios that project the next 35 days in the Wellington and Wairarapa region can give producers an idea of how to prepare.

“Weather is chaotic, there’s so many different outcomes. But we can look at a wide range of scenarios and say what is the most likely outcome?

“That’s what we’re trying to do here,” Meyers said.

“If I were a primary producer looking at this, I would say ‘even in the wetter scenario, it’s still going to be normal to below normal rainfall for large parts of the North Island’.”

In Masterton last year there was 92.4mm of rain in August and only 50.8mm in the same month this year.

Out on the coast, Ngawi also saw a significant drop in rainfall, recording 118.6mm in August this year versus 175.8mm at the same time last year.

Surprisingly, Martinborough had more rain in August this year [96.2mm] than the same month last year [65.8mm].

So far this September, Wairarapa as a whole has experienced little rainfall, Meyers said.

“Our daily updating climate map shows our rainfall anomaly so far this September, and we have seen well below normal rainfall in Wairarapa.”

This forecast is already at the forefront of the minds of local producers, who need to think about how they will tackle the incoming dry spell.

Masterton-based organic grower Jeremy Howden said he is definitely worried about a long period of dry, “especially the high temperatures with it – it could really make life very difficult”.

Howden said that even though it is good to see the sun after such a wet winter, in his line of work it is more challenging to navigate prolonged dry weather.

“In many ways being too wet is better than being too dry. Because things will still grow on my ground if they’re too wet – even though personally it’s miserable.”

Long-term efforts to plan for dry summers include shifting production patterns into the winter as much as possible.

But Howden said even this is difficult after a dry summer with water and irrigation regulations, as winter crops need to be established in the ground by late summer.

“The Tararua catchment is quite a small catchment, it dries out quite quickly. With minimum river flows, we’re trying to preserve biodiversity, which is important,” Howden said.

“But if there’s no rain in the ranges, the regional council will issue irrigation bans, and that cuts off the lifeblood of what I do. That could be extremely serious for me.”

Federated Farmers Wairarapa president David Hayes said farmers are also wary of what the next few months would bring.

“I think it’s very much on people’s minds,” Hayes said.

“Everyone’s talking about El Niño and the forecast of a hot dry summer, so it’s an important consideration. Wairarapa does get dry in the summer, that’s normal for us.”

Hayes said to address these concerns, he wanted to see progress on Wairarapa’s water resilience strategy, an initiative sparked in 2021.

“It’s an important founding document to try and get some resilience into water availability.”

Hayes said the strategy was created to address water needs, improve environmental conditions, and make sure there is water available for the community and farming,

“Being flippant about it, we could go from the sublime to the ridiculous,” Hayes said.

“Too wet, or not enough feed, late spring, then it’ll go dry. If we get all of that, it’ll be really difficult.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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