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Many think Canterbury’s nor’west winds make them grumpy

Many people think Canterbury’s nor’west winds make them feel grumpy

December 2, 2014

Many Canterbury people believe the nor’west winds that blow strong in spring and summer makes them feel grumpy, a University of Canterbury academic says.

History professor Katie Pickles, who studies Kiwi culture, says many people say they feel grumpy during days of nor’west winds which have blown more than usual this year. Canterbury is definitely home to a world class wind.

“But is it really so important, or is it all cultural hocus pocus? Does the wind have an effect on us? Canterbury’s nor’westers are one of the dominant winds in the region. It’s not the major wind – that honour goes to the bitter easterly which is also greeted with varied reactions. But it’s the nor’west wind that occupies a huge place in the imaginations of Cantabrians.

“We know that the nor’westers, or the foehn wind, bring heavy rain to the mountains on the West Coast of the South Island, and then it blows hot, strong and gustily across the Canterbury plains, creating a visible nor’west arch in the sky.

“Winds can unite cultures and they are an important part of life for people who have lived in Canterbury. Historically, the significance of the nor’west wind to Ngāi Tahu was evident in its proverbial name, Te Hau Kai Tangata or the wind that devours humankind. There was an association with unease and death.

“There are evocative writings of the dramatic effects of the nor’westers which made a big physical and cultural impact on settlers. Does the nor’wester sometimes have a deep psychological effect on many people subjected to its strong, hot, dry nature? The association of the nor’westers with unease and death was not confined to Māori.

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“In order to escape the wind, records show Canterbury farm women move inside, close all windows and draw curtains as the nor’wester approaches. The wind has been linked to increases in suicide and domestic violence.

“Some research has also shown that about 10 percent of people feel elated when the nor’westers blow while most other people feel depressed, irritable and lacking energy. People feel they can’t cope with everyday things. There is irrational anxiety and a sense of foreboding.

“History shows the nor’west can signal environmental disaster. A nor’west gale in 1975 flattened tree plantations and damaged buildings. The December 26 and 27 1957 storm that caused severe flooding in the mountains was also a nor’wester. In the days after the February 22, 2011 earthquake nor’westers whipped-up the dust from liquefaction and spread it around Christchurch,” Professor Pickles says.


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