Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Canterbury Nor'wester

Nga ra o te waru - the time of scarcity - as norwesters dry out the Canterbury Plains in January-February, the height of summer.

The Press in Christchurch reports that early spring gale force norwesters have fanned scrub fires in two locations around Canterbury, both starting from agricultural burn-offs. Such fires are but small echoes of the burn-offs precipitated by natural causes before human settlement and those successfully practiced by both Maori hunters and Pakeha farmers, the latter on a much wider scale in the 19th century.

The severe northwest gales extended over the Wairarapa, Wellington, Marlborough and Canterbury, with the highest wind gust of 158kmh being recorded on the Rimutakas north of Wellington.

New Zealand's oceanic climate leads to highly changeable weather conditions that any Kiwi will readily tell you about. Indeed, New Zealand band, Crowded House, sing of Four Seasons in One Day:

More on Canterbury's weather patterns & variability - a cool, wet southerly often quickly follows the hot, drying northwesterly leading to a sharp drop in temperature - can be found here.

Norwesters not only cause hot, dry conditions that can result in drought conditions and the need for irrigation in Canterbury agriculture, but can - under the right conditions - cause flooding on the plains because of heavy rains deposited in the mountains.

Tawhirimatea, god of weather, struggles to control his children, clouds & storms (the blue spirals). C Whiting, artist.

In Maori creation mythology (more here), Tawhirimatea, god of winds and storms, angered by the separation of his parents Ranginui (Rangi,sky father) and Papatuanuku (Papa, earth mother) by his siblings, sought revenge on his brothers Tane Mahuta (god of the forests), Tangaroa (god of the sea), Rongomātāne (god of cultivated food, eg kumara) and Haumia-tikitiki (god of uncultivated food such as the fern root). Tawhirimatea laid flat Tane's forests, caused waves to grow as large as mountains, and the kumara and fern root to burrow deep into Papa, the earth mother.

Finally, Tawhirimatea turned on his brother Tumatauenga, (god of war and people).

Tumatauenga, god of war & people. C Whiting artist.

Unlike his other siblings, Tumatauenga proved equal to his brother of the winds. Ever since those early times, the weather and people have been locked in a continual struggle that neither one can win.

So that, as Crowded House advise, "Everywhere You Go, Always Take The Weather With You" - more accurately, you have little choice but to learn to live with it, for better or worse:

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