Records show extreme weather history repeats for Canterbury

Last updated 05:00 06/03/2014

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The history of Canterbury is a catalogue of heavy snowfalls, shipwrecks, floods, hailstorms, tsunamis, howling gales and landslides.

The region has been struck by extreme weather events on an almost routine basis from the 1860s onwards.

Canterbury's location on a series of floodplains means the area is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events.

The Christchurch City Library's online history resource, The Press archive and web encyclopedia Te Ara detail some of the major weather events to strike the region.

One of the earliest floods to hit Christchurch came in February 1868, when the Waimakariri overflowed and connected with the Avon River through Fendalton and Avonhead. The water swirled through the city centre, was a metre deep in Victoria Square and reached up Worcester St to Cathedral Square. The flooding followed a severe storm and gales that caused many shipwrecks.

The Press reported that 300 sheep drowned in Fendalton and 3000 sheep belonging to "Captain Westenra" were rumoured to have also drowned.

"That we may not again be visited by another such disaster, we most heartily wish," The Press article from February 7, 1868 read.

It was a wish that was not to be granted.

The city endured snowstorms in 1862 and 1895, with severe snowfall in 1918, when 175mm of snow settled on July 22 and temperatures did not rise above 1 degree Celsius.

Christchurch endured a run of extreme weather in 1945, with severe flooding across the city in May, gales up to 145kmh in July, 280mm of snowfall and air temperatures reaching -7.1 degrees Celsius later that month and more flooding in August, particularly in the suburbs of Shirley, Radley, near Wooolston, and Sumner.

In the 1970s, Canterbury people experienced another wave of poor weather. The Big Blow in August 1975 saw gusts of up to 172kmh, injuring 250 people in Canterbury, and felling forests. The region experienced flooding in 1974, 1977 and 1978.

The Big Snow of 1992 killed more than 1 million farm animals in Canterbury, damaged buildings in Christchurch and caused up to $100 million of damage. The city was flooded once again when the snow thawed.

Heavy snow has become a regular fixture for Canterbury, with snowstorms striking the region pretty much every year since 2004. A heavy storm in 2010 destroyed a new marina in Lyttelton harbour.

And this year, the catalogue continues, with heavy flooding across the city once again.

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- Canterbury


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