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There’s snow place like home

Snow in Gladstone. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Looking toward the Tararua Range, with Parkers Road in the foreground. PHOTO/CHESTER ROAD PHOTOGRAPHY

It cancelled commuter services, blanketed hills, and squeezed farmers already under pressure.

Wairarapa’s unseasonable snowfall has been characterised as a standout October event, eliciting a flurry of photography on Thursday, but according to one Martinborough farmer, it was also “just bloody cold”.

Residents woke on Thursday to discover the incoming polar blast had dumped the forecast snow to 200m.

Flurries closed the Remutaka Hill Rd briefly after midnight and continued to fall into mid-morning, followed by sheets of hail in the afternoon.

The region’s heavy snow watch lifted around 1pm on Thursday.

Metservice meteorologist Amy Rossiter said snow at such low elevations was unusual in October, with the weather proving to be “quite unstable”.

“It is an unusual occurrence and unseasonable to have snow this low and late in the season but we would need to take a deep dive after the event to see if records have been broken.”

Lambs brave the cold on SH2 north of Masterton. PHOTO/MARY ARGUE

Farmers from Martinborough to Masterton said the unseasonable weather had relatively little impact on livestock, with the lambing season almost over. However, the snow added unwanted moisture to pastures already saturated by weeks of rain.

Tauweru farmer Michael Birch said the last big snowfall event in August 2011 resulted in lamb losses and said with that in mind, farmers were fortunate that this time, the snowfall came later.

“The big snowfall in 2011 was followed by some really cold rain, which resulted in some losses.

“With lambing, you’re talking about how long the cold goes on for, and if it goes on too long you get losses.”

Birch said the wet ground was the greater challenge for farmers.

“It’s been so continually wet. The soil moisture is maxed out, and has been for weeks.”

Castlepoint Station manager Jacques Reinhardt said the team was planning to “lay low” after initial welfare checks on livestock.

George and Mildred on their first date.. PHOTO/CAROLYN HENSON

“We still have some heifers calving. We checked on them, but it’s best to stay away at this time of year.

“With lambs and ewes still together, you don’t want to upset them or mis-mother them. They know how to protect their little ones.”

Farmer Mark Guscott said the snow that settled on the hills at Glen Eden in Martinborough had had little impact and speculated that it was farmers still lambing in the Aorangi Range that would be “pretty busy”.

“We only had a couple of centimetres and finished lambing a month ago. It’s just freezing cold, and it’s more mud than anything. That’s the biggest problem. It’s just so wet.”

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president David Hayes said the snow would squeeze farmers already under pressure after a wet year.

“It’s not just the snow. We had 100 millimetres of rain in February and peak flows in the river several times this year. The winter has been really wet.”

He said the wish for a dry September to carry out docking and cropping had not eventuated.

An October winter wonderland at Pukaha. PHOTO/TESSA WALMSLEY

“It’s hard for most of the farming sectors, we just can’t do those things. It’s too wet and too muddy.”

He said dairy farmers in particular had endured a difficult winter grazing and calving season trying to look after pastures.

“The pressure is on in terms of feed supply, the ground is just so wet, and it’s going to take a while to dry out.

“It’s not so much the snow that is causing drama. But we’re in October for goodness’ sake.”

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research meteorologist Ben Noll said a polar blast in October went against the trend of warming.

“Low elevation snow in October is a standout. Each of the last two Octobers has been more than a 1 degree Celsius warmer than average.”

He said while Masterton and Martinborough recorded lows of 0.1 and 2.7 deg C overnight Wednesday, they were not record-breakers

“In Masterton that wouldn’t even rank in the top 20 coldest temperatures. We had -3.4 degrees in October 2007.”

He said the cold extremes witnessed in the past few days were becoming fewer and further between with climate change.

“With climate change, it has been our experience that warmer temperature extremes are greatly outpacing our colder temperature extremes.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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