East Coast still dry – 11mm not enough, Fed head says

Bruce Wills: the region is in the grips of a 70-year serious drought event.

The huge low that spread across New Zealand days ago brought rain and relief to most areas of the country but the East Coast is still dry after a minimal fall.

The region is in the grips of what is a 70-year serious drought event, Federated Farmers President Bruce Wills told BusinessDesk.

"There's a long way to go yet. All the rain did was give us some hope and a bit of a reprieve," he says. But even after the rain it's going to take two to three weeks to grow grass on the dry, parched paddocks.

Though the rain was welcome, it has been patchy, Mr Wills says. "Where I farm here in Hawke's Bay I got 11mm – not nearly enough.

"The forecasts tell me there is nothing much on the horizon for two or three weeks, even up to a month. So it's still very concerning and we're just focussing on things with all the resources that we can." 

The Napier and Hawke's Bay areas up to Gisborne saw only 10-30mm of rain, Metservice acting media and communications meteorologist John Law says. South westerly winds pushing the moisture toward land on Tuesday and Wednesday provided some help, he says.

"For spots along the East Coast that was all they've seen for the entirety of March. There really just hasn't been much through there."

Light showers

The band of rain that held over the North Island has moved towards the East today, with a few light showers forecast for Gisborne, Mr Law says.

"But at the moment I can't see anything substantive due to a patch of high pressure feeding in from the west, so the weather will be settled and dry this week." 

The weekend's low gave Manawatu one of the biggest drenchings despite missing out on the beginning of the rain, according to Weatherwatch forecaster Phillip Duncan.

The bulk of the precipitation hung around the centre of the country across Monday and Tuesday, with the Lower North and Upper South Island getting the best of it.

A general spread of between 30-80mm was seen from Wairarapa to Taranaki and down to the Kapiti Coast, while the Tararuas saw as much as 100-150mm of rainfall, according to Metservice data.

The biggest surprise was the lack of rain in the West Coast region, for which weather models had predicted a huge low front dropping down into the region that instead stopped around Nelson.

"Quite a bit of that rain fell in the hills in West Coast, but not down on the farms where it was needed. But they're going to get some more this weekend so we're not too worried about them," Mr Duncan says.

The flatter areas of West Coast saw between 20-30mm, while the hilltops experienced up to 100mm on Sunday.

With the high hanging around most of the country is set for another dry week, though a front moving in from the South West later in the week may bring some rain to Westland Fiordland and Southland possibly up to Nelson and Buller, Mr Law says.

"I don't see any huge amount of rainfall ahead for the North Island."

But with NIWA predicting a return to normal autumn weather patterns in its long-range forecast for March, April and May, rains should come with increasing frequency.

"Rather than looking at the drought as one big problem to solve, we need to look at it piece by piece," Mr Duncan says. "I think piece by piece it's starting to be fixed."