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GWRC: Recent rain a ‘50-year event’

March’s super rainstorm flooded Queen Elizabeth Park in Masterton. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

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The Greater Wellington Regional Council has just published its climate and water resource report for the summer season.

There are some very interesting observations for Wairarapa, where drought left swathes of the countryside yellowed and bone-dry, leading to lower yields for farmers and emergency relief funding from the government.

Unsurprisingly, it was a hotter than average summer, and we only got about half the normal rain.

This led to a perfect storm for drought conditions, which were only abated by March rainfall, much to the relief of farmers across Wairarapa, who had virtually no significant rain for three months.

The drought dilemma only started to revert to normal in late March, culminating with rainfall of titanic proportions.

On Wairarapa’s east coast, rainfall of 250mm was recorded.

To put that into perspective, this is almost three times the monthly average for March in some locations.

In Pirinoa, for example, the event’s rainfall was equivalent to the total expected normal accumulation for January, February, and March combined.

Scientists from the council estimated this to be a “50-year event” in some areas.

Dr Alex Pezza, senior climate scientist with the regional council, said the results of the report highlight the difficulty of water management.

“Firstly, you have three months with virtually no rain, and then everything comes down at once.

“Effectively what you do is to bring the seasonal total closer to normal, while in reality the poor distribution makes it extremely challenging for farmers and the rural communities to manage the water resources.”

The report concludes with a seasonal prediction for the remainder of autumn and beginning of winter.

“There is a high chance that the irregular distribution of rainfall will continue, with more periods of extreme rainfall events likely ahead.

“Temperatures should continue to oscillate between normal and above normal for the rest of the season.”

Climate projections for mid-century show that even if we contain global warming under 1.5 to 2 degrees, an “average” summer could be as dry as the one this year – what a ‘dry’ summer could look like doesn’t bear thinking about.

This suggests that the present conditions may become the new normal by 2040.

According to Pezza, “the current climate imbalance will only get worse unless we start taking care of the environment, and significantly and permanently reduce the global greenhouse gas emissions this decade”.

“We are all seeing a sharp pollution reduction all over the world during this lockdown, which is inspiring.

“What we need now is to start talking about finding a permanent solution, which will allow us to enjoy a better quality of life, while at the same time restoring the environment back to a balanced and sustainable condition.”

Pezza said he remained optimistic.

“I think that since the Australian bushfires, and now with the coronavirus, we have really had some eye-openers.

“The cat is out of the bag now. Our dependence and interconnection with the planet is becoming more and more obvious.

“This is our chance to put things right, and learn to harmoniously co-exist with the environment, with less pollution and less waste. If we do that, the climate will slowly stop changing, and eventually return to a condition of equilibrium.”

The regional council publishes six seasonal climate and water resource reports a year.

The just-published summer 2020, as well as previous reports, are available from the council’s seasonal climate portal: https://www.gw.govt.nz/seasonal-climate-and-water-resource-summaries-2

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