Cyclone Cook was supposed to be a record-breaker, so what happened?

Flooding in Christchurch on Friday.
Brett William Lovegrove

Flooding in Christchurch on Friday.

The worst of Cyclone Cook is over, leaving some wondering: "Was that really it?"

Forecasts said the storm would be the worst since 1968, when Cyclone Giselle sank the Wahine in Wellington's harbour. Auckland and Wellington were reportedly in its path, so city folk left work early, secured their trampolines, and waited.

The New Zealand Transport Agency warned an "unprecedented" closing of Auckland's Harbour Bridge was possible. 

Flooding in Waikato.
Supplied.

Flooding in Waikato.

"I have never seen an event like this in the 12 years I have been a forecaster in New Zealand ... this is not an event to be taken lightly," MetService forecaster Lisa Murray said on Wednesday.

READ MORE:
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A peaceful Friday morning after Cyclone Cook, under the rail bridge across Tauranga's harbour.
JASON DORDAY/FAIRFAX NZ

A peaceful Friday morning after Cyclone Cook, under the rail bridge across Tauranga's harbour.

Cyclone Cook made landfall in the Bay of Plenty, causing more damage to the already sodden area which was hit hard last week by ex-Cyclone Debbie.

Gusts of 209kmh were recorded at White Island and 154kmh at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay. Waves six metres high pounded coastlines around the Bay of Plenty. More than 200mm of rain fell overnight in the region.

There were slips, floods, and downed trees and power lines. Flights were disrupted, residents evacuated, and states of emergency declared. 

Not everybody escaped ex-Cyclone Cook unscathed: in Hawke's Bay, gales brought trees down on cars and 15,000 households ...
Marty Sharpe

Not everybody escaped ex-Cyclone Cook unscathed: in Hawke's Bay, gales brought trees down on cars and 15,000 households lost power.

However, the storm weakened, and headed east. 

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"We dodged a bullet," MetService meteorologist Nick Zachar said in response to the larger cities' situation. 

"We were lied to," said people — mostly Aucklanders — on social media. But is this fair? No, not really, Zachar says.

Cyclone Cook was a compact system, meaning the strongest winds were within a relatively narrow swath, Zachar explained. Instead of hitting Great Barrier Island, which would have impacted Auckland, it tracked away. And, because it was moving quickly, the rain didn't last as long as during ex-Cyclone Debbie, which caused major flooding in Edgecumbe

"The potential impact for Auckland could have been much worse," he said.

Even though it was relatively small, the system was "significant" as it approached. 

"If that had hit anywhere close to Auckland, that could have done major damage. We wanted to make sure the public was aware."

 

That's part of the reason weather systems are given human names — to heighten interest and increase preparedness within the community

And, as Associate Professor Asaad Shamseldin of Auckland University's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering pointed out, New Zealand is vulnerable to these weather events. 

"The recent cyclone episodes and the associated flood events around New Zealand is a reminder to all of us that we as a nation are vulnerable to floods," he told the Science Media Centre

"Once again, the recent flood events have demonstrated that they can have very adverse effects on communities causing damages, and trauma as well as disrupting daily lives."

For this reason, it wouldn't pay to underestimate the strength of a storm such as Cyclone Cook. 

MetService severe weather forecaster John Crouch said while Cyclone Cook took a similar track to Cyclone Giselle, the latter was "a much deeper system, with much, much lower central air pressure". 

"It also collided with a southerly front around Cook Strait area which caused the severe winds, so it's been nowhere near as severe as Giselle and I think we've been quite fortunate that it was quite small and quite mobile."

While it would likely be the last tropical cyclone for a while, winter was bound to bring more southerly storms. 

With that in mind, it's always better to be safe than sorry, Zachar said. 

 - Stuff

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