Wildest winds since the 1970s
CALEB HARRIS, TOM HUNT AND MICHAEL FORBES
It has been almost 40 years since the country last experienced a wind storm from top to tail like it has in the past few days, according to climate scientist Jim Salinger.
Dr Salinger, who studies severe-weather events, said the last time such high winds battered both islands was in August 1975, when gusts reached 172kmh at Christchurch Airport.
During that storm, about 6000 hectares of pine forest were destroyed and a car was blown 36 metres into a brick wall. "At the same time, temperatures reached 20 [degrees Celsius] in places like Christchurch which, for the middle of winter, was quite amazing."
Before that, July 1945 was the most notable wind storm to affect the entire country. Back then, winds peaked at 145kmh at Wigram in Christchurch and 1400 hectares of forest were toppled.
Dr Salinger said it was rare that a large anticyclone and a deep depression formed in unison at either end of the country.
MetService forecaster Dan Corbett said the storm had "a bit of everything in it. A bit like a dog's breakfast".
The main cause of the winds was the high and low-pressure systems pushing against each other and squeezing the air in between.
As a result, the air was forced to move faster, bringing in strong winds.
WAIRARAPA BEARS THE BRUNT
Trucks were blown off roads, trees were toppled, power was cut and Wellington Airport was almost brought to its knees as furious winds tore through Wellington and Wairarapa.
The effects of yesterday's wild weather were felt hardest in Clareville, near Masterton, where a truck and campervan were blown over and a tree collapsed on a fire engine.
The engine had parked in a driveway in Chester Rd to inspect a fallen tree and power pole when another tree fell on top of it. One man was trapped briefly in the truck but he escaped unharmed.
A campervan was also knocked over by the wind on West Taratahi Rd in the same area. One person was trapped momentarily and the driver suffered minor injuries.
The driver of another truck-and-trailer blown over north of Masterton said he was a "lucky boy".
The empty upside-down trailer stayed attached to the truck as he steered it off the road and through a fence into a paddock, fighting to stay upright.
"I just felt it go light and I knew it had gone . . . she's bloody windy mate, too windy."
Two other truck-and-trailers were also flipped by the wind.
About 9.10am strong winds plucked one truck off State Highway 2 north of Masterton and dumped it in a pine plantation, destroying 100 metres of fence and scattering freight among trees.
Another truck toppled over at Clareville, causing the diversion of SH2 traffic. No-one was hurt in either accident.
Police also had to stop a train preparing to leave Masterton Station when part of a roof was blown on to the tracks. A broken barrier arm further down the line also had to be cleared.
Senior Sergeant Carolyn Watson said road policing staff from Wellington were brought in to help Wairarapa officers.
Powerco said gusts of up to 120kmh broke power poles and brought trees and branches down on lines on Tuesday night, causing power cuts to 2500 Wairarapa homes.
Wellington did not escape the mayhem either. Almost all domestic flights in and out of the city's airport had been cancelled or diverted by 7.20pm.
By that time, 21 flights due to leave Wellington had been cancelled, as had 17 due to land there. Two more flights had to be diverted to Palmerston North.
This followed disturbances to earlier flights caused by gusty crosswinds.
An Air New Zealand spokesman said about 800 passengers were affected.
A Wellington man on one of the last flights into the capital last night said that his landing was the roughest he had experienced in a long while.
"The pilot had warned us to be prepared for a second go-round if the wind stopped us landing. As it turned out we got down first attempt, but it was pretty hairy."
A Jetstar spokesman this morning said there were no knock-on delays with flights in and out of Wellington today, while Wellington Airport's website indicated a backlog of flights were being cleared in calmer weatehr today.
An Air New Zealand spokesman said 23 flights in and out of Wellington were cancelled last night.
"Operations in Wellington have this morning resumed however there will be flow on effects from the weather disruption this morning,'' he said.
Wellington Electricity spokesman Drew Douglas said 72 homes lost power from about 7am yesterday at Horokiwi. Power was restored by late morning.
MetService forecaster John Law said the northwest wind peaked near 150kmh on the Rimutaka Hill on Tuesday but still howled through yesterday. The wind was not forecast to die out until early today.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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