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Is The Weather Fickle, or Just the Forecasters?


The country’s meteorologists seem to be reacting to weather rather than predicting it.  A relatively sudden warming like that of last week can set alarm bells reverberating throughout the nation that the weather/climate must be out of control. Stephen Harris, the Head of the Metservice, once said weather is getting more unpredictable (All TV channels, 3/7/03). The picture ordinary folk have is of a crazy system resembling some giant delinquent child, and we are reduced to a shrugging of the shoulders waiting nervously for the next lot of bizarre behaviour to appear.  And there is a solid group of climatologists arguing that the climate is getting steadily worse. There is difficulty with the logic of this.  They admit they cannot with any confidence predict weather for more than a week ahead, or they would be warning of severe weather more than a week ahead.  Thus it is most peculiar they can predict extreme weather in 50 or 60 years time. 

In November 2001 NIWA announced that the dry South Island conditions that caused that year’s power crisis would last another 20 years (NZ Herald 10/11/01).  Yet the very next year, 2002, saw no power crisis. 2003 only saw shortages in the spring months as we know, and the hydrolakes got so full from heavy rains that Contact Energy spilled water at its Clyde station, because it was incapable of harnessing all the water coming through the dam (ODT 02/07/03).  Perhaps the declaration of ‘dry conditions for the next 20 years’ was merely a knee-jerk reaction to the then dry look of the land.  If so, it was hardly long range forecasting. Dam waters are again being spilled into the sea because they are too full. Yet Otago is in drought mode and will be until June. This simply makes no sense. Where are the planners?

If they got that so wrong, what else?  In February 2003, NIWA said that we were in the throes of an El Nino year and going through a 5-yr El Nino pattern (NZ Herald 18/02/03), yet by May they had decided that the El Nino had dissolved (NZ Herald 06/05/03).  They predicted May would be drier than average for the east of the North Island but contrarily it turned out to be wetter than average.  The Metservice is not off the hook either, trumpeting “Tropical Weather For A While Yet” (NZ Herald 10/06/03) on June 10th then the very next day; “Winter Bursts In… signs of La Nina occurring”(NZ Herald 11/06/03), followed less than a week later by “for this winter expect a bit of everything… La Nina looking unlikely” (NZ Herald 16/06/03). Because this article was written then, 2003 was the focus. But there are numerous other examples. Last year NIWA said in April that the next 3 months would be warmer than average. In fact May turned out to be the coldest May ever recorded in NZ. June wasn't much better. In November NIWA said the country was in for a dry hot summer. In fact the South island have had the wettest coldest summer for many decades.

They all have a tough job, and they do brilliantly what they are best at, which is telling us what weather we have just had and forecasting for a day or two ahead, but for longer than that they are arguably less than successful.  The long range forecasters of yesteryear could easily explain hot early January and cold July weather.  In every first week in July the Sun finds itself furthest from Earth for the year, a situation astronomers call Aphelion.  It is the True Midwinter’s Day, and those who claim the Solstice Day has that lofty honour are simply misinformed.  Aphelion Day varies slightly from year to year but its range is between July 2nd to 7th.   The difference in the Sun’s distance from Earth from Aphelion to Perihelion, July 4th to January 4th, is about 9 million miles.  In 2001, Aphelion occurred on July 5th, in 2002 on July 6th, and in 2004 it will be back to July 5th.  Cooler temperatures usually hit the country around Aphelion Day and it is the reason the first week in July is generally cold enough for ski-fields to officially open their season if they haven’t already done so.  Meteorologists either do not yet know about aphelion or else forgot to mention it.

They also don't seem to know about the Moon. The Moon creates a tide in the air, called the airtide. But you never hear this mentioned anywhere; yet you hear a lot about sea-tides. Yet there is ten times more water vapour alone in the air, despite the other gases, than all the rivers of the world. The Moon has no eyes and cannot see where the water is, so why would there NOT be a tide in the air also? The air, which can move faster than water, lifts up each day to meet the Moon, and drops again. On a summer full moon day the Moon is out of the sky until sunset, so the air height is lower during the day, enabling the Sun's heat to come closer to the ground because it is not as much blocked by the air. That is why summer full moon time is the hottest in that summer month. The last full moon was on 30 January, which is why temperatures suddenly went warm in January's last week. The Moon is also Coldmaker.  As well as the New Moon-to-next New Moon period, 29.5 days which we call lunar phase, there is a north-to-south and back again cycle of around 27 days called the lunar declination.  It just so happens that the July New moon typically coincides with the northernmost point in this circuit, the Northern Declination.  Let us call this conjunction NM+ND.  On that day or thereabouts, everything goes cold. 

A potential for colder weather is the winter Full moon, which in our winter normally coincides with the Southern Declination, which is the Moon’s southernmost point each month.  Let us call that FM+SD.  Skiers know from old folklore that the winter Full moon typically brings snow.  In the declination cycle, Full moon occurs in the hemisphere of the country experiencing winter.  During the southern hemisphere winter, just after SD, the Moon begins its northward trek and by gravitational pull on the mass of the atmosphere, by dynamics akin to waves generated on the ocean, it induces huge airflow swells or currents to flow north from the southern polar regions.  These become southerlies by the time they hit NZ coasts.  Sometimes Aphelion Day exactly or roughly coincides with the NM+ND day.  Then, a doubly cold spell is inevitable.

Let’s peek into the past.  The coldest temperature ever recorded in NZ was at Ophir in Central Otago on July 2, 1943, which was Aphelion Day and also the exact day of NM+ND.  Temperatures plunged to -20°C.  That was 60 years ago, but no one was preaching doom then.  Just as well, because if weather had been on a linear decline since, we in NZ would be in an uninhabitable polar climate by now. There are many more such examples.  On July 15th/16th 1939, the very day of NM+ND, snow flurries were recorded in both Northland and Auckland.  On July 20th, 1971, again the day of NM+ND, light snow fell on the Bombay hills. On July 5th, 2001, Aphelion Day, -12.2°C was recorded at Hanmer Forest, which turned out to be the lowest air temperature for that winter.  On Aphelion Day in 1976, Coronet Peak had its best snow for nearly a decade.  When it came to be FM+SD some days later on July 12th, 100mph gale force winds lashed Kaikoura coast, the Waikato was flooded, much of Wairarapa was carpeted with snow and Nelson had its heaviest snowfall for 38 years.  July 20th 1978 saw a bad FM+SD storm and winds so violent winds that an Auckland house blew off its foundations and a train with carriages was blown off a railway bridge in Te Aroha.  These Moon correlations are far too many to be called coincidental.  There are other, less major factors that also cause cold, being the positions of some neighbouring planets, but these factors too are cyclic and represent no cause for alarm.

With this perspective we do not have to jump to the conclusion that doomsday is approaching just because it turns unexpectedly colder.  We are not heading for anything unusual in years ahead, other than what the grand cycles of the Sun and Moon and their conjunctions serve up, as they have done for thousands of years.  This is ancient knowledge, swept aside these days by technology’s hypnotic fascination with computer modelling.  Generations of farmers, trampers, skiers, fishermen, astronomers, and geologists have retained snippets of the old folklore methods but the Moon remains mostly unnoticed by official forecasters, who have factored out all lunar considerations from their weather models.  This has been the most appalling scientific gaff of the previous century.  Rationalising this, most forecasters decide that the Moon has little or no influence and say that if it was so, because Earth turns under the Moon once every 24 hours, then all places should get the same weather.  Hardly, anymore than a theatre audience would all react identically to the same performance.  Geographical factors force differences.  But lunar influence on weather is easy to prove.  On the night of any Full moon (the next one is on March 2nd) look up to the heavens around midnight.  The chances are high that you will see a clear sky.

Coming up?  Summer temperatures are always hotter around the full moon, which was three days ago on January 30. This will get cooler soon. Summer is all but over for some parts of the country. This February should see temperatures drop way down in about two weeks time, the first taste of season's change. This may bring snow at or near the 15th of February at Whakapapa Village, at around 1100m, and, with minimums of under 5C in some places, frosts to parts of Canterbury. Even though temperatures rise again at the end of the month around the next full moon, winter this year is expected to arrive early. March may see some surprisingly high temperatures in some areas, but they will be rare and freakish upward swings, because by March 20 most districts should be shivering in autumn mode. Get your firewood early, and get lots of it.

Overall, this February and March may break records for being cold months for some. This year may be on a par with 1867, 1903, 1939, and 1974, which have ranked amongst our coldest recorded winters. North Otago is facing a 6-month drought with relief rains not due til next June/July. Canterbury may be into sub 5deg minimums in the middle of February; an early descent into autumn. March southwesterlies may make it the coldest March in 50 years. April may be the coldest April in half a century. In May unusual cold might burn kiwifruit vines, and hail and snow do damage to kiwifruit orchards. June brings severe frosts in Central Otago. August may see exceptional snow storms and squalls. In September Christchurch may experience the heaviest snowfall since 1945, with maximums perhaps up to 10deg below normal.  October’s unusual cold means spring is slow to start. Thousands of recently shorn sheep in Hawkes Bay and Manawatu may die from cold. January 2011 could be bringing cool, cloudy and wet weather, especially to the east coast.  It might not be a bad idea to prepare ourselves..

© Ken Ring  January 2010

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