What can we expect from Mother Nature this summer?
After what is likely to be a cooler-than-usual run up to Christmas this year, early indications are that we will see a quick switch to above-average temperatures as we enter 2020.
How does that stack up to previous years?
The weather during our summers can be very mixed and varies year-to-year. Last summer started off wetter than average but by the end it was the third warmest on record. The summer before (2017-18) was the warmest ever recorded. We also had a visit from ex-tropical cyclones Fehi and Gita, which brought large amounts of rain, strong winds and caused a lot of damage. In contrast, summer 2016-17 was cool overall, even though there were some 30-degree days in January, and a lack of rain in the north and east of the country made things difficult for farmers. The most memorable beach summers are those with blocking high pressure systems which give us sunshine and light winds. Of course, we could get the other extreme, with ex-tropical cyclones from the north affecting us, but we only get one a year on average and last summer we didn’t see any.
Describe weather patterns typical in the Land of the Long White Cloud...
As a meteorologist, Aotearoa is a challenging and rewarding place to forecast weather for. This is due to it being a group of islands in the middle of a vast ocean with a mountain chain that extends the length of the country and contributes to many micro-climates. In some inland areas of the South Island, just east of the mountains, the climate is distinctly continental in character, with large daily and seasonal temperature extremes, despite the fact that no part of the country is more than 130km from the sea.
How do you make a forecast and determine weather patterns?
Understanding the earth’s atmosphere is at the heart of what a meteorologist does. We use this expertise to predict the impacts and translate it into meaningful information for New Zealanders. Weather forecasts are made by collecting as much data (temperature, humidity and wind) as possible about past and present atmospheric conditions and patterns. We use this information, paired with an understanding of atmospheric processes (through the science of meteorology) to determine, as best we can, how the atmosphere will evolve.
How has technology made this process easier?
In the last 50 years there have been massive technological improvements in the tools that forecasters use. We still have people working in the forecast room who remember when we got one satellite image each day many hours after the image was taken. It was printed in Christchurch on a special printer and then flown to Wellington, where the forecasters all gathered around to view it. Now, we receive hundreds of images via satellite which gives us ten-minute updates on how the weather systems are developing.
What sparked your career?
I was born in Ireland, where the weather is always a topic of conversation. Much like here, it can seem like there are four seasons in one day. I worked as a university lecturer in medical physics before coming to New Zealand; initially on a working holiday but I immediately fell in love with Wellington. I had always thought meteorology would make an interesting career, so when MetService recruited people to train, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Victoria University of Wellington and MetService partner to offer the only Masters of Meteorology in the country and all MetService meteorologists are certified by the World Meteorological Organisation – the weather’s governing body. Now I never run out of conversation when I return home to Ireland.
Has there been a particularly memorable or challenging day
on the job?
The days when the weather shows us the true force of nature and the impacts it can have on our land and people are both memorable and challenging. Massive events like ex-tropical cyclone Gita show us how vulnerable we are to extreme and severe weather, particularly as climate scientists expect greater severity of weather events due to climate change. These events are the busiest and most concerning time for me. During Gita, I was the key weather spokesperson and it was important that we reached as many people as possible with our severe weather warnings so they could make informed decisions regarding their own safety and that of their families, livestock and property.
How quickly can a forecast change given unpredictable weather patterns?
I lead the weather communications team and our role is to ensure that the correct weather message is being explained. With all the tools available nowadays, plus the experience in the forecast room, we can predict significant weather patterns five to six days out with relative confidence.
What do you love most about your job?
Like most in the forecast room, I enjoy having a job where
I feel I am contributing to society. As a meteorologist, we help keep people safe during severe weather and assist people and businesses – from energy companies to event organisers – to make decisions that can save substantial amounts of money.
I also enjoy the ever-changing role; no two days are the same.
Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Spring 2020 issue