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Dry spells take hold in South Island

Dry spells take hold in South Island

Many areas in the South Island are tracking towards record dry spells as relatively warm, dry weather that began in mid-August continues.
A dry spell is defined as a period of 15 days or more with less than 1mm of rain on any one day.

NIWA climate scientist Gregor Macara says for some South Island places, the current period of fine weather is quite rare.

“Milford Sound generally only has a dry spell once every two years and seven months. The current dry spell in Milford Sound has lasted 22 days so far - if it lasts for another week it will become the longest on record, beating the 2001 record of 27 days,” Mr Macara said.

Queenstown’s record dry spell is 59 days that began on 21 July, 1952. The current dry spell there is now at 26 days. Queenstown, Alexandra and Milford Sound have all exceeded their average dry spell length during the present dry spell.

Dry spells are not particularly common in coastal areas of Otago and Southland but do occur more frequently inland. They typically occur when a persistent anticyclone becomes established over the South Island.

Western ranges also provide sheltering for eastern areas so that dry spell conditions can persist in north or north-westerly airstreams.

Wanaka and Fairlie are leading the pack for the current dry spell, with both towns experiencing ongoing dry spells that have now reached 29 days each. This is still well short of the record for these towns of 55 days and 40 days respectively.

Timaru is on 28 days, Oamaru 26 days and Nelson 18 days.

“What we’re seeing is a particularly widespread bout of dry spells across the South Island,” Mr Macara said.


NB: All figures are up to and including 9 Sept, 2014.


Table 1. Dry spell (at least 15 consecutive days with less than 1 mm rainfall per day) frequency and duration for selected locations, from all available data.

FrequencyMean duration (days)Max duration (days)Max duration date
AlexandraOne every 3 months214018/2/2003 to 29/3/2003
Dunedin (Musselburgh)One every 13 months183626/2/2001 to 2/4/2001
QueenstownOne every 6 months195921/7/1952 to 17/9/1952
Milford SoundOne every 2 years 7 months172730/6/2001 to 26/7/2001

Table 2. Current dry spell information up to and including 9 September 2014.

Dry spell lengthStart dateEnd date
Wanaka29 days so far12 August 2014Still going…
Fairlie29 days so far12 August 2014Still going…
Timaru28 days so far13 August 2014Still going…
Lake Tekapo28 days so far13 August 2014Still going…
Tara Hills28 days so far13 August 2014Still going…
Queenstown26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Alexandra26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Cromwell26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Clyde26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Lauder26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Ranfurly26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Middlemarch26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Mt Cook Village26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Roxburgh26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Oamaru26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Manapouri26 days so far15 August 2014Still going…
Westport23 days so far18 August 2014Still going…
Milford Sound22 days so far19 August 2014Still going…
Haast22 days so far19 August 2014Still going…
Nelson20 days so far21 August 2014Still going…
Gore18 days21 August 20147 September 2014
Lumsden17 days22 August 20147 September 2014
Dunedin17 days22 August 20147 September 2014

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