Yes, the 'summer' weather is far worse than usual

Louise McDermott, left, and Hillary Symmes get caught in bad weather at Lyall Bay in Wellington and decide to pack up.
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Louise McDermott, left, and Hillary Symmes get caught in bad weather at Lyall Bay in Wellington and decide to pack up.

If you feel like the summer weather has passed us by, you're right – it's been a season of downs, not ups.

This week marked summer's midway point, but instead of lounging on the beach, many were hiding from the rain or watching in disbelief as it snowed.

The bomb low that struck the eastern South Island on Wednesday and Thursday caused massive rainfall on the West Coast and in the Southern Alps and severe gales as it moved north.

Rain clouds gather over Arthur's Pass from State Highway 73 on Wednesday.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Rain clouds gather over Arthur's Pass from State Highway 73 on Wednesday.

It caused Canterbury's rivers to surge to their highest levels in years and the resulting low temperatures led to snow near Queenstown on Thursday – virtually unheard of in the middle of summer.

"We had a cold night, a cool southwest flow … The temperature was right and there was enough moisture for snow," said MetService forecaster Tuporo Marsters​.

"It's a novelty."

Tourists wonder what happened to our summer weather.
MONIQUE FORD/FAIRFAX NZ

Tourists wonder what happened to our summer weather.

The unusual storm was the natural culmination of a poor summer thus far, particularly for the South Island.

Temperatures throughout December and January had been cooler than usual in most places due to prevailing southwesterly winds, which were expected to continue until the end of January.

"Any time you have winds coming from the south you're going to have cooler than average temperatures," said Niwa meteorologist Ben Noll.

Nelson city in the rain after a low-weather system passed though this week.
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Nelson city in the rain after a low-weather system passed though this week.

"Certainly the South Island and the lower North Island have been dealing with these cooler patterns."

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Unlike last year – the warmest in New Zealand's recorded history – there was no dominant El Nino pattern. Unusually warm sea temperatures had also cooled, paving the way for southerly patterns to dominate.

"What we've dealt with so far speaks to variability within the seasons. You can see things turn around relatively quickly; that's part of weather.

​"You're going to have some ups, you're going to have some downs, and so far in January, we've had more downs than ups."

However, it was a different story in the North Island where high-pressure systems passed frequently.

Whangarei was on track for one of its warmest summers ever and the Hawkes Bay and Gisborne had also been warmer than usual.

Summer may still be on the cards for the South Island – the outlook for February suggests a warming trend – but it may be too little, too late for some.

"The hope is that given the long -ange outlooks we get more summer-like weather as we head into February, particularly in the second half."

For Christchurch, it was bad from the start.

December figures showed that most major cities, including Dunedin, Auckland and Hamilton, had less than half their usual December rainfall.

Christchurch – typically the driest major city – had 20 per cent more rain in December than usual and recorded more total rainfall than Dunedin.

It also had the least sunshine of the major cities.

Poor weather had cut short some family camping trips.

Pakawau Beach Park manager Gary Riordan said the site, north of Nelson near Golden Bay, had been plagued by wet and windy weather.

"We just get wind relentlessly.

"People were ringing to cancel from New Years onwards and people who were here were bailing early because of the weather."

It was Riordan's first summer after taking over the campground's lease in April last year.

He had reopened a long-closed campsite shop and was expecting a busy summer.

Instead, many sites had been empty as holidaymakers opted for the comfort of home rather than a wet and soggy tent.

This week's low weather bomb was the "last straw", Riordan said. 

"There are some brave ones that toughed it out, but most went home."

He was hoping for a late, "lingering" summer.

Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park staffer Natalie Ward said the town had been protected from the worst of the wet and windy weather and the park had been busier than the previous year.

Some may have stayed for a shorter time, but new campers were coming through on a daily basis, she said.

"It's still nice, it's just that we have had a few fronts moving through."

 - Stuff

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