|I’d been told that the source of the Waikato River sprang from the Eastern foothills of the Central Volcanic Plateau, and my ongoing attachment to that arterial waterway led me to seek it out.|
I arrived on the 20th of December. It was summer, but it had been snowing. As a child of the Southern Hemisphere - raised with Christmas BBQs and sunshine - this was unexpected.
Finding the stream eventually after trudging across the landscape near the Tukino Ski Field road entrance off State Highway One, I photographed in all directions; the shallow pebbly stream, the clear blue sky. It was a magical, if anomalous, snowy wilderness. I couldn’t get it off my mind.
The year 2006 was one hell of a weather ride, according to the Herald. NIWA reports that the climate in December was particularly extreme; the coldest recorded in sixty years. Our festive month was characterized by frequent southerly episodes, in part relating to a strong El Nino event that occurred in the latter half of the year.
The El Nino Southern Oscillation is a seesawing of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific. Although it does occur far, far away from New Zealand shores, it still has some impact here. Typically during El Nino phases there are more southerly flows and cooler air temperatures in our corner of the world.
December 2006 really was one for the books though; temperature records were smashed between Taupo and Wellington, including the Central Plateau. Taupo monthly temperatures ran nearly 3 degrees Celsius below what is typical for that time of year and The Chateau was a chilling 2.5 degrees below average. Because of the extremely low temperatures and high frequency of southerly outbreaks, several snowfalls occurred during the month across the Plateau.
This was a beautiful reminder that New Zealand weather is highly variable and we notice increasing extremities. Our country lies across the mid-latitudes and is therefore exposed to weather both from the tropics to the north and the Southern Oceans to the south.
So here we are in 2012 having had a few December weather variances since the freezing 2006. December 2011 was affected by more northeast winds than usual, in some ways in complete contrast to that of 5 years before. Wet, cool and cloudy conditions prevailed all over the North Island and in the Central Plateau, Turangi recorded 177% of the normal December rainfall and only 81% bright sunshine.
In reality - no summer!
Thanks to Georgina Griffiths NIWA & Research Assistant Melanie Tollemache.
All photographs Copyright © Jocelyn Carlin.
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