New Zealand – “worst regional flooding in living memory”

Regular WeatherAction commenter Lorraine L from New Zealand brings news of some devastating floods with one man reported dead so far (my emphasis);

Major flooding today in the Wellington, Kapiti and Hutt Valley region of NZ

We had some heavy rain and thunder this morning in Motueka (Tasman, South Island) but all is calm and clearing now. This R4/ R5 period has been highly active in NZ this week.

Update on the major flooding in the Wellington NZ region

This really is the worst regional flooding in living memory. Having lived in the Hutt Valley and Kapiti Coast before we moved to the South Island, we know that there has been nothing as widespread as this before. I’ve been in NZ since late 1972 and my husband since 1959 so we’ve seen some severe weather events. When the rain stops it will be a major clean up for people in the greater Wellington area.

The New Zealand Herald reported

MetService meteorologist John Law said Paraparaumu, also on the coast, had about 100mm of “incredibly intense bursts of rain” in just 12 hours.

A power jetstream over New Zealand Image courtesy -
A power jetstream over New Zealand
Image courtesy –

The thing about ‘living memory’ weather events is that they have to always be placed in the context of human settlement and, until the past century, our relatively short lifespans. Too often in the climate debate we have no nothing ‘youngsters’ proclaiming it’s the worst ever but when you speak to someone in the seventies, eighties or nineties they may recall an earlier event for example such as the Kōpuawhara flood of 1938.

Twenty-two people were killed in the Kōpuawhara flood of 1938 – the largest number of fatalities from a 20th-century flood in New Zealand. It is a sobering reminder of the dangers of building on low-lying land close to rivers.

I have to say despite some dubious adjustments to past New Zealand data the Teara (government) site is well written and provides a balanced perspective sadly lacking from the majority of alarmist coverage these days. I have reproduced some of this below to show that floods are nothing new and if they are our fault it’s because of where we chose to live not a trace gas which some believe magically controls the thermostat of this planet. (my emphasis).

A flood-prone land

Settlers in New Zealand commonly chose to live next to rivers and lakes, as these were a source of fresh water, and the adjacent plains usually had fertile soil. As a consequence, about two-thirds of New Zealanders now live in areas that are naturally prone to flooding. Nearly 70% of towns and cities with populations of over 20,000 have river flood problems.

Human activity has also increased the likelihood of flooding. Large areas of native forest were cleared by both Māori and European settlers, leading to a more rapid run-off of rain into stream networks, and to erosion that raised the levels of river beds. In urban areas, ground that would normally soak up falling rain has been replaced by buildings, footpaths and roads. This leads to surface flooding during heavy rain, and increases the run-off into storm drains, causing higher water levels in local streams.

Story: Floods

New Zealand’s number one hazard

Floods are the most frequent and costly natural disasters in New Zealand – between 1920 and 1983, the country experienced 935 damaging floods. The Insurance Council of New Zealand calculated that industry payments for flood damage between 1976 and 2004 averaged $17 million per year in 2004 dollars. But this covers just part of the actual cost – for example, government expenditure on civil defence responses during flood emergencies alone averages about $15 million per year over the same period.

Early floods

Floods have cost an uncounted number of lives. Māori history tells of a pre-European flood in the Tūtaekurī area of Hawke’s Bay in which a party of 50 men, women and children were drowned by the rising of two streams. The early European settlers failed to realise the intensity of rainfall in New Zealand and how rapidly rivers could rise. The broad gravel-bed rivers were particularly deceptive: although usually shallow enough to wade across, in flood their currents become powerful. By 1870, just a few decades after European settlers first arrived, rivers had been responsible for 1,115 recorded drownings. Drowning became known as ‘the New Zealand death’.

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