Looking back at the weather for 2014

Talking temperatures, 2014 will be remembered for being somewhat back-to-front. With a cooler than usual start and finish to the year for much of the country, the middle months of 2014 were very mild.

Overall, 2014 ended up looking ‘about average’ with respect to temperature for many parts of the country. The exception was the north-eastern parts of both Islands, which were warmer than usual, as well as between Whanganui and Wellington. Tauranga, Napier and Nelson experienced their third warmest year. But the year was actually a roller-coaster of temperatures, swinging from unusually cold to extremely warm, and back again.

With regards to rainfall, 2014 exhibited large swings between very dry periods and extremely wet ones. This reflected the weather patterns flip-flopping between Highs parked over the country, north Tasman Lows that resulted in wet conditions for northern New Zealand, and cold, stormy southwesterlies.

It was a drier than normal year for much of the country. The exceptions were Northland, Gisborne and Oamaru (wetter than usual); and the southwest of the South Island, as well as Auckland and Wellington (with near normal annual rainfall observed). In the case of Northland, north Tasman Lows produced several deluges, while southern New Zealand was battered by southwesterlies on occasion. True to form, rainfall in 2014 yo-yoed between extended dry periods and extreme wet spells, making for another very challenging year for farmers and growers around the country.

The most damaging weather events of the year included Cyclone Ita (17-18 April, also known as the Easter Storm), which brought heavy rain and gales from Northland down to Nelson, and punishing winds to the West Coast; a rapidly developing Low near Whangarei which produced heavy rain and severe gales for northern New Zealand on June 10-11; and the Canterbury floods of March 4-5.

Temperatures month by month

January was unusually cold across much of New Zealand, leaving many people wondering when summer would arrive. In contrast, April and June were extremely mild, with Kiwis questioning where winter was.

May temperatures were above average for the South Island, while numerous temperature records were broken right across the country in April and June. Nationally, it was the warmest June on record. September temperatures were also above average for the North Island, and it was the warmest September on record for Tauranga.

In contrast, October saw frequent southwesterlies and several significant snowfall events. Notably, November refused to warm up for most regions – it was unusually chilly for western and inland areas, with frequent hail events across the country, and extremely late frosts for many. Cooler temperatures continued into December, but were rapidly replaced by warmer northerlies over the country.

Rainfall month by month

For much of the country, February and March were extremely dry (the notable exception being Canterbury). It was the second-driest March on record for Hamilton, with only 6mm of rainfall observed.

April was extremely wet across New Zealand, with Cyclone Ita having a large impact on many regions. Wellington experienced the second wettest April on record.

May was rather dry for many areas, with Tauranga observing its third driest May.

It was a very wet June for the North Island due to the warm northerly winds: Auckland experienced its third wettest June since records began, and Tauranga was close behind with its fourth wettest June.

July and August were rather dry for parts of the South Island, while it was a sopping wet September for the North Island. Auckland observed its third wettest September.

October was very dry across most of the country. By the end of a windy November, the prolonged dry spell in the northeast of the South Island had started to take its toll, with abnormally dry soils there.

The return of humid northerlies mid December produced useful rainfall for north-facing regions-Nelson, Northland and the Bay of Plenty.

Regional summaries

Northland: a wetter and warmer year with back-to-back extremes

Kaitaia Weather Summary 2014Whangarei Weather Summary 2014


Auckland: an unusual year

Auckland Weather Summary 2014

Tauranga: a very warm year

Tauranga Weather Summary 2014

Hamilton: dry start to the year; temperatures yo-yoed

Hamilton Weather Summary 2014

Wellington: a mild year overall

Wellington Weather Summary 2014

Christchurch: a year of extremes

Dunedin: frequent southwesterlies and a drier year overall

Dunedin Weather Summary 2014


The information above was prepared by MetService meteorologists Georgina Griffiths and John Law. More detailed information for each region has been provided to your local media outlets for their use.

A Southerly ‘Buster’

On Monday 28th November, a south to southwest change swept its way northwards across Otago and Canterbury during the afternoon.   Temperatures soared to 28 C preceding this change then rapidly plummeted to around 16.  This was a good example of what is known in Australasia as a ‘buster’.

Temperature traces on 28 November in degrees Celcius. DNA=Dunedin, OUA=Oamaru, TUA=Timaru, CHA=Christchurch and KIA=Kaikoura. Timestamp is in UTC; 27 0000 is 1pm NZDT.

The weather map for 1pm Monday 28 November 2011 showed a typical trough moving across New Zealand. The last of a series of fronts within this trough was the one responsible for this dramatic drop in temperature.

Weather map for 1pm NZDT Monday 28 November

The reasons for temperatures soaring to between 26 and 28 C ahead of this southerly change are:
•    Northwest winds ahead of the trough warmed by around 5 to 10 degrees Celsius as they descended down the eastern slopes of the Southern Alps
•    Sunny conditions in the relatively clear skies over the Canterbury Plains – on a date less than one month ahead of the longest day.

These warm temperatures combined with falling air pressure to produce a zone of relatively low density. Higher density air in the cooler southerly flow that followed this cold front accelerated into this zone of low density air producing a squally “gust front” with the wind change. This “gust front” built in size and intensity during the afternoon as can be seen from the tweets sent from @metservice during the afternoon

  • Southwest change arrived Dunedin Airport around 11:50am. Temp dropped from 22 to 14 C , gusts to 50 kph , and its on its way north. ^BM
  • Southerly change got to Oamaru about 1:30 pm, temp. dropped from 22 to 14 C, initial gusts were 54 kph . South Canterbury’s next ^BM
  • Southwest change arrives in #Timaru just before School’s out, Temperature drops from 28 C at 2:30 pm to 16 C by 3 pm , Gusts to 70 kph ^BM
  • Southerly change reached #Ashburton between 3:30 and 3:45 pm, temp. dropped from 26 to 16 C, gusts 70 kph see http://t.co/YhuAEZ4L ^BM
  • Southwest reached #Christchurch at 5 pm in time for evening commute, temps 28 C to 17 C in 20 minutes. with wind gusts 75 kph , ^BM
  • Hi #Christchurch be quick and look at wind blown dust of that southerly change on MetService radar at http://t.co/lmw4BcYA past hour ^BM

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September to November is the season for the strongest of these southerly busters (but they can occur at any time of the year).  Spring brings the strongest westerly winds of the year to South Island and it is also a time of relative cold offshore sea temperatures.  The temperature difference between the heated air over the Canterbury Plains and seas in the Canterbury Bight is what feeds the wind gusts of a buster. The coldest sea temperatures of the year occur in early spring, and they only just start rising in November.   You can find the latest reading from metservice.com by clicking on ‘marine’ and then ‘beach’ and selecting a suitable site.  The one shown below is Jack’s Point near Timaru (timestamp is 10am Wed, 30 Nov 2011).

Jack's Point on the metservice.com Marine & Surf section. Wind, Wave ands Sea conditions are now available on metservice.com


The showers with this buster occurred mainly along the coast and at sea.   In the drier air over the Canterbury Plains the southwest wind change picked up dust and dirt, especially over the Rakaia River, and lifted and blew these as a “dust storm” into Christchurch.  This can clearly be seen on the animation below, taken from the high frequency Christchurch rain radar site at metservice.com.

Canterbury Snow, 10 May 2009

With clear skies over most of Canterbury on Monday, we got a good look at the fresh snow that fell on Sunday (10th May).  Here’s the view late Monday morning (around 10:30am) from NASA’s Earth Observing System Terra Satellite,

Fresh snow on the Alps and Canterbury foothills - Monday 11 May 2009. (Image courtesy of MODIS Rapid Response Project at NASA/GSFC.)

Based on the coverage in that image and reports from snow observers, the bulk of the snow in South Canterbury fell above about 300 metres, although some places lower down, especially near the foothills, may still have had light snow that didn’t settle appreciably.

While this wasn’t the first cold outbreak of the year, Sunday’s snow event over the lower South Island (including Fiordland, Southland and Otago) was certainly the most significant of 2009 to date.  If you have any tales of how you were affected that you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a comment below.