While the lower South Island battles against a heatwave, the North Island and parts of the upper South Island have more pressing concerns. Auckland, the Coromandel, Nelson, Northland, Tairāwhiti, the Waikato and Westport are among the hardest-hit areas from recent torrential rain, resulting in flooding that has displaced roads, washed away houses and left thousands stranded and homeless.
Since the 27th of February, Auckland and parts of the North Island went from expected subtropical downpours to a state of emergency that is unprecedented in recent history. The typical summer rainfall fell on just one day on the 29th after several days of continuous rain.
Thunderstrikes, torrential rain and thunderstorms gathered in concentrated areas throughout the North Island, with strong winds picking up the following week. Landslides and flash floods called for evacuations along Auckland’s state highway as people climbed onto their vehicles to escape the floodwaters, leaving 1500 cars stranded.
In Auckland alone, over 200 homes have been closed off with a red-sticker notice, with many more deemed uninhabitable. Businesses around the city have also been closed off, while entire roads, including the slip around the Thames-Coromandel District (declared an emergency on the 3rd of February), have disappeared, leaving much of the North Island inaccessible.
Other winds of 65km/h have helped in the destruction, resulting in landslips destroying homes in Auckland’s hills. The surrounding farmland and river banks have been destroyed.
Flights in and out of Auckland have been severely restricted, although most have resumed at limited capacity after the 31st. Many roads, however, remain closed, with detours in place to help redirect traffic.
At the time of writing, it’s hard to estimate a final death toll or suggest that this is the end, with more weather warnings on the way. Anyone reading this article while the weather warning is still in place is advised to check the news for regular updates. The concern is that even moderate rainfall could prolong the flooding, hindering emergency services' access to those in need.
On a positive note.
Throughout the two weeks, New Zealand’s quick response to the emergency was the most enlightening news. Auckland alone has received more than 300 applications for financial help, with a $200,000 emergency relief fund set to help those who have been hit hardest by the 7th of February. The payment will cover damages and help support those who have had to offer shelter to displaced families and individuals.
To apply for funding, visit the Auckland Council’s website. Immediate help can be reached on the Auckland Emergency Management phone line at 0800 22 22 00. For welfare assistance, call 0800 400 100.
The climate crisis.
While it’s fantastic to see how quickly Kiwis have reacted to this disaster (only a week after Jacinda Arden’s handover), the flooding itself has been preventable for a long time now. As the newly appointed Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said to the press;
"It's a 1-in-100-year weather event, and we seem to be getting a lot of them at the moment. I think people can see that there's a message in that. Climate change is real; it's with us… We are going to have to deal with more of these extreme weather events in the future. We need to be prepared for that. And we need to do everything we can to combat the challenge of climate change."
To put the issue in context, since the Industrial Revolution, the world’s mean temperature has risen by 1.1℃. Over 260 years, that’s around 0.004℃ per year, although this isn’t an accurate measure of the change. Most of the world’s global warming has occurred since 1975, after which the first effects of runaway greenhouse gases become noticeable. Since then, the world’s temperature has risen by 0.15-0.20℃ per decade or 0.015-0.02℃ per year.
And now we’re facing the possibility of rising to 1.5℃ or above by 2050 — some indication of slowing, but possibly not enough to prevent a runaway greenhouse effect. If that happens, there’s little we can do outside of bioengineering our environment to prevent the world from getting increasingly hotter as water vapour rises to trap in heat, eventually spiralling out of control in an irreversible warming process. For comparison within our solar system, we need only look at the conditions on Venus, originally an Earth-type planet until the expanding sun caused a runaway greenhouse effect, resulting in the deadly vapour clouds we see today.
While it’s challenging to find an exact match for Earth, it’s clear that our actions are causing the planet to heat, much as Venus was super-heated in its past. And though this is not the first time in our Earth’s long history a significant shift in temperature has occurred, it’s undoubtedly the quickest climate shift ever.
It’s also worth noting that each time our planet’s temperature changes, it’s caused massive extinction events and a complete shift in the Earth’s ecology. The last of these significant events occurred around 10,000 years ago, and, by chance, it created enough stability to allow human society to flourish, and that stability is now in jeopardy.
The Eartha perspective.
The point of Eartha’s climate column is not to detract from these recent horrible events, which have hurt hundreds of families around the country, resulting in at least dozens of deaths so far. Instead, we hope to talk about current events in light of their natural causes.
Our earth is a complex biosphere prone to imbalance, resulting in floods, heatwaves and tsunamis. This has always been the case. However, on the whole, our planet’s recent history has been remarkably stable.
Global warming has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. We’re likely to see flooding, and experience heatwaves, with regular occurrence, at least every five years from now on. Last year, we saw Pakistan devastated by floods and America covered in heatwaves that broke all recent records.
This is still just the beginning. The best time to act will always have been yesterday, but by acting today, we can bring the rising temperature under control. It won’t help us today, or maybe even this decade, but it’ll eventually decrease the risk of another Auckland flooding for future generations.
Help prevent another Auckland - sign the petition.
Before you leave, we recommend you read this scathing article by Titirangi local and Greenpeace activist Nick Young and sign the petition at the bottom of the page. The petition is to cut climate emissions from Big Dairy (a topic we recently wrote about here).
If you’d like to contribute to helping those currently seeking disaster relief in Auckland, you can find out more here.
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- “Auckland Anniversary weekend weather: Flooding closes Auckland motorways, cars seen floating down roads” on NZ Herald. Date Published: 28th January, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3DDRRel.
- “Auckland flooding: What you need to know” on NZ Herald. Date Published: 30th January, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3wSU7KK.
- “New Zealand roiled by flash floods, landslides for third day” on Reuters. Last Updated: 29th January, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3RAnb3h.
- Ng, Kelly. “Auckland floods: More heavy rain ahead for New Zealand's largest city” on BBC News. Date Published: 1st February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3JFrkB7.
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- Rawling, Caitlin. “NZ flooding: Passengers stranded, major roads closed - What the devastating weather means for transport across the country” on Newshub. Date Published: 30th January, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3HWTdmY.
- “State of emergency declared in Thames-Coromandel in wake of storm” on Stuff: Waikato Times. Date Published: 3rd February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3YkGVtZ.
- Subramaniam, Tara. “New Zealand’s biggest city braces for more heavy rains after deadly floods” on CNN World. Last Updated: 30th January, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Hy5wou.
- “Surface flooding returns to Auckland” on Otago Daily Times. Date Published: 3rd February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3YfQOJC.
- Sutter, Paul. “How Venus Turned Into Hell, and How the Earth Is Next” on Space.com. Date Published: 7th August, 2019. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3XbCila.
- “World of Change: Global Temperatures” on Earth Observatory. Date Accessed: 4th Februrary, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/40nrDGR.
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.