2013 third hottest year since NZ records began

Mother nature has been putting the heat on, with the warmest winter on record, dramatic storms and a nasty drought punctuating one of the hottest years in more than a century.

Climate scientists say temperatures will continue to rise, with 2013 the third-hottest year since records began in New Zealand - and as Australia sweltered in its hottest year yet.

The National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research has confirmed that last year was one of the hottest in more than a century of records, with mean temperatures 0.8 degrees Celsius above the 1971-2000 annual average.

Two centres recorded their highest temperatures on record: Masterton with 33.5C on February 2, and New Plymouth with 30.6C on January 6, Niwa said in its annual climate summary issued yesterday.

Principal scientist Mike Revell said it was significant that the three years with the warmest mean temperatures were 1998, 1999 and last year.

"The fact we've had our three warmest years now in the last 15 years is definitely further evidence for the climate warming up."

The year was peppered with extreme weather events. The drought from January to April was one of the most severe on record, and farmers are dealing with increasingly confusing weather patterns.

Rangitikei farmer William Morrison, who runs a sheep and beef farm in Marton that has been in the family for 150 years, said the dry conditions were among the worst the family had seen.

"It was very challenging . . . and the weather just seems to be more extreme - heavier rainfalls, longer frosts. We just have to be aware of that, and factor it into the way we do our business."

Taihape farmer Fraser Gordon said farmers had been "let off the hook" by the warm winter. He had a 100 per cent survival rate during calving, which was unprecedented.

"There was just one snowfall, and that's just unreal for here."

Last year would also be remembered for the devastating June storm. It caused widespread disruption and damage, with an extreme dump of snow in the South Island helping to push the nationwide insurance figure to $39.3 million.

In Wellington, two gusts of wind during the storm's peak - of 202kmh at Mt Kaukau and 143kmh at Kelburn - were the highest on record for June.

Along with the warmth and drought, a rainstorm in Nelson and Tasman in April was one of the "most intense" yet measured in New Zealand, Niwa said. Near Richmond, more than 10 centimetres of rain fell in an hour.

Victoria University climate scientist James Renwick said that, as temperatures rose, so did the amount of moisture in the atmosphere. This gave added intensity to the hydro cycle, with more torrential rainfall and storm events.

"There's more energy and moisture in the air and water, so yes we expect climate extremes like high rainfall and winds will increase in frequency as the globe warms.

"The outcome for the future is that, especially for the north and the east of New Zealand, it's going to become quite a lot more droughty quite a lot more often." But while the "exceptional" weather events could be partly attributed to climate change, some were simply a normal by-product of living in an island country.

"It is a mix of global warming and just the way the climate varies, with more winds from the north than normal that do bring us these warmer conditions."

Wellington followed the national trend, recording its third warmest year since records began, with a mean temperature of 14.4C, 0.6C above normal.

The capital also recorded its highest mean minimum temperature at 11.6C.

The Dominion Post