Erratic weather is hard to live with

ANGELA FITCHETT
Last updated 15:14 22/01/2013

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Angela Fitchett

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OPINION: Allowing for a little exaggeration, the weather nearly killed me once. I was home on D'Urville Island for the May university break. During the first few days, bleakly chilly and knife-edged southeasterlies blew straight into the bay, whipping up whitecaps and hissing through the line of Norfolk pines that tower over the house.

Anyone forced outside to chop wood or feed the chooks bundled themselves into a Swanndri, boots and a woolly hat.

I went down with pneumonia. The weather got worse as the wind changed direction and roared in from the northeast, making it impossible to tie up any kind of boat at the French Pass wharf. I was trapped.

Medical advice was sought by phone from the district nurse, who contacted our Nelson GP. Dad took the launch over to French Pass and pulled in as close to the wharf as he could, and the district nurse threw the prescribed medicines into the Alamo's cockpit.

I eventually recovered, but not before a nasty encounter with pleurisy, an allergic reaction to a prescription of what looked like dog-dosing pills, and missing most of the middle term of university. Even if it didn't finish me off, the weather was - I felt at the time - the reason for the extent of my suffering.

How have you found the weather so far this summer? Always a reliable default conversation topic, its "look at me now!" behaviour has provided lots to talk about.

Just before Christmas, a night of heavy rain and gusty easterlies brought half a mature lemonwood crashing down across the drive outside our bedroom.

The rain and wind were so noisy we didn't hear it fall, but when we pulled back the bedroom curtains, clear blue sky had replaced the pale green lattice of leaves and branches that decorated our usual view.

On Christmas Day, we sweltered in the heat, wishing we hadn't decided on roast lamb at midday. Earlier this month, we pulled up chairs on the verandah to enjoy a theatrical sky with sound effects of thunder and lightning that would have done Weta Digital proud.

Last week, there was more torrential rain; today, there is sun and wind, and it's much cooler. And so on it goes. Looking for an upside, we can at least agree that the weather hasn't been boring.

Erratic weather is unusual for the Nelson region. I'm not going to consult the statistics, but I think I'd be right in saying that Nelson has a history of more settled weather than most of the rest of New Zealand - hence the string of sunshine hour titles and flocks of Cantabrians seeking a nor'wester-free holiday.

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As Sounds children on trips to town, we always noticed the higher temperatures and calmer weather that began as the Land Rover crested the top of the Whangamoa Hill. Life on the Waikawa Bay farm and then on D'Urville Island meant the weather was at the forefront of any undertaking, summer or winter.

Was it the right time to muster the romney ewes for pre-lamb shearing? It depended on a good weather forecast; wet wool does not a happy shearer make.

Should Denny Atkinson start topdressing? Not this week - strong winds were forecast and, aside from the fact that the Okuri Bay airstrip would be unusable, the fertiliser was of much more use deposited on the hills than in the blue-grey waters of Admiralty Bay.

Sometimes, the school bus was cancelled because of high winds. Occasionally, heavy rain made our steep farm road too slippery to use, even in a Land Rover with chains.

The weather affected recreation, too. Boat trips to the Mill Arm in D'Urville Island's Greville Harbour required mild southeasterlies to avoid an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous trip home. And even though my father was the most cautious of boatmen, I remember at least one frightening ride home from Greville Harbour, the towering rollers of a following sea threatening to wash over the low stern counter of the Alamo.

There's also an upside. The weather has provided employment on D'Urville Island. High winds often blew out the telephone lines and Dad, one of two Post and Telegraph temporary linesmen, had to find and fix the fault.

We often went with him, driving slowly along vulnerable sections of line, looking for the break. Once located, it was a matter of joining the ends of the broken wires so normal service could resume.

I vividly remember clinging to the steep side of a bare hill in the screaming wind, holding on to the end of a telephone wire while Dad retrieved the corresponding piece, dangling from the pole in the bush below.

I have plenty of good weather memories. The endless hot and golden summers of our youth are a cliche simply because they are our true and heartfelt memories. Where have those summers gone?

Is it that my recollection of those times has improved with distance, or has our weather really become more erratic and extreme? Only the future can provide the answer. Let's hope it's one we can live with.

- Nelson

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