Climate in your stars

21:18, Jan 21 2014
te wera king
ENVIRONMENT KNOWLEDGE: Arowhenua Marae Upoko Te Wera King says many people, both Maori and Pakeha, are familiar with predicting the weather by observing nature.

Looking to the stars to predict weather may seem a little airy-fairy to some, but studies have shown long-range weather forecasting by observing the natural world exceeds the accuracy of modern scientific long-range forecasts.

According to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), accuracy of environmental seasonal forecasts is about 65 per cent.

This exceeds the accuracy of modern scientific forecasts with similar outlook periods by 5 to 10 per cent.

Farmers in Peru use the mid-year appearance of the Pleiades star cluster to forecast the timing and quantity of precipitation in the wet season, months later. Closer to home, Maori have long trusted environmental indicators to forecast local weather and climate.

Arowhenua Marae Upoko Te Wera King said many people, particularly eelers and fishermen, still retain and use the knowledge to anticipate the weather ahead.

"It's usually very reliable - for example the masses of flowers on cabbage trees last year showed a good summer was ahead, and it was a great summer," Mr King said.


NIWA says natural weather indicators differ among different Maori tribes. Ngai Tahu traditionally look towards Mangaroa (the Milky Way) and ti kouka (cabbage trees) to predict weather.

■ If Mangaroa is curved, bad weather is likely.

■ If Mangaroa is straight fine weather can be expected.

■ If ti kouka flowers early and profusely, a long, hot summer will follow.

"It's not just Maori knowledge - Europeans know these things too. It's just about good observations of the environment, the animals in it, and the timing of their activities."

South Canterbury Federated Farmers grain and seed chairman Colin Hurst said that when it came to farming, he did not find long-range forecasts particularly important.

"There's always an element of risk, and we do sow earlier or later, to try and manage it, but to be honest, with farming you get what you get."

NIWA environmental scientist Darren King, who has been studying traditional Maori methods for predicting weather and seasonal conditions with kaumatua (elders) from across Aotearoa, said modern and traditional forecasting systems can complement each other.

"Climate has always been important to Maori," Mr King said.

"It influences which plants, trees and birds are found in various parts of the country, and it affects winds, waves and ocean currents.

"This knowledge has not only been vital to survival - by helping whanau to prepare and plan for weather hazards and climate variability - but also influences decisions about when to plant, harvest or fish.

"Learning more about the Maori knowledge system can contribute to better understanding of local weather and climate changes as well as promote awareness of the inherent linkages between people and the natural world."


South Canterbury