Second hottest February on record sparks fresh concerns over climate change

Crowds enjoying the hot weather at Scorching Bay in Wellington in February.
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Crowds enjoying the hot weather at Scorching Bay in Wellington in February.

A scorching end to the summer has lead to New Zealand's second warmest February on record, preliminary data from Niwa shows. 

The country's mean temperature for the month was 19.6 degrees Celsius, second only to 1998, said Niwa forecaster Chris Brandolino.

For Wellington it was the warmest February on record, also with a mean temperature of 19.6C, which is 2.4C above average for the capital.

But while the weather was great for those enjoying our pools and beaches, it was concerning to climate scientists.

"If global warming and climate change just meant nicer summer days around Oriental Bay - wouldn't that be nice," said Professor James Renwick of Victoria University.

Warmer months meant two things, sea levels would rise and rainfall patterns would change, he said.

"If we dry up the planet the frozen things start to melt... and sea levels are definitely going to go up this century."

While temperature rises in cooler areas of the North Island, such as Wellington, Masterton and Paraparaumu might appear "quite pleasant" - the consequences would cost us.

"Water scarcity will become more and more of a problem.

"Those sorts of things that have an effect on agriculture and drinking water are a big concern."

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Renwick knew February was tracking to be hottest, but said he was surprised at how large the anomaly was. 

"One degree up or down is quite a big deal, but 2.4C is really large."

The higher-than-average temperatures were expected to continue across New Zealand, Brandolino said.

Niwa's seasonal climate outlook for autumn states temperatures are 55 per cent likely to be above average in all regions of the North Island.

Rainfall, soil moisture and river flows are all predicted to be near average or below average across the island, including in Wellington, Wairarapa, Gisborne and Hawkes Bay.

It was important to remember higher-than-average temperatures were relative to each season, Brandolino said.

Historically the mean autumn temperature for Wellington is 13.7C, while the average for summer is 15.7C.

Temperatures are considered above average if they are half a degree higher than normal. 

Wellington's record-breaking February temperature was taken at Kelburn, where records have been kept since 1927.

The New Zealand-wide temperature is calculated based on Niwa's seven station series, which has tracked temperatures in Wellington, Nelson, Dunedin, Auckland, Masterton, Hokitika and Lincoln since 1908.

The series shows the country's average annual temperature has increased by about 1C over the past 100 years.

 - Stuff

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