Cyclone Gita could bring gales with gusts of over 150kmh and heavy rain to a vast swathe of the country when it hits on Tuesday evening, according to predictions.
A state of emergency could be declared on the West Coast as early as Monday evening if predictions about the intensity of the storm hold true, with Civil Defence urging people to plan ahead.
Gita, which caused havoc in Tonga last week, has the South Island in its “firing line”. Its centre is predicted to make landfall in the northwest tip of the island late Tuesday.
And West Coast residents “getting their lives back together” after the devastation of ex-tropical cyclone Fehi a fortnight ago could be among those worst affected.
MetService issued a severe weather watch on Sunday, warning of a “period of highly impactful severe weather”, including gale force winds, heavy rain and coastal inundation for central New Zealand.
Early on Monday MetService meteorologist Nick Zacher said the latest forecast track continued to show Gita crossing northern portions of the South Island from about Tuesday evening to about Wednesday morning.
“It’s moving quite fast, it’s going to accelerate further through the next 24 – 48 hours,” Zacher said.
“Once it does move through it’s going to start clearing off the country just as fast.”
Gita was expected to be reclassified as an ex-tropical cyclone sometime on Monday evening.
Localised gusts of ‘over 150kmh’
High wind had started to cause disruption from Monday morning with a strong wind warning put in place for State Highway 80, Ben Ohau to Aoraki Mount Cook. High sided vehicles, campervans and motorcyclists were advised to take extra care driving in the area.
The West Coast Regional Council chief executive along with the mayors of the Buller, Grey and Westland districts and Civil Defence would meet at 5pm on Monday to assess the latest predictions.
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said “we want to wait another day so we shore up more reliable data”, but if “it still looks bad tomorrow night and we get Cyclone Ita-type winds, we will make a call [on the state of emergency] one way or another”.
“We don’t want to be alarmist, but we want to be safe rather than sorry.”
The remnants of Cyclone Ita struck New Zealand in April 2014. Winds peaked at 130kmh in Westport, the Buller District was left without power, and 39 homes in the Grey District were left uninhabitable.
Nelson was hit hard by Cyclone Fehi and its mayor, Rachel Reese, told RNZ people should prepare for Gita.
“They should have their emergency kits and their evac plans ready and we’re really asking people to be neighbourly and look out for vulnerable people on your street,” she said.
WeatherWatch head forecaster Phillip Duncan said Gita was “bigger” and “more powerful” than ex-tropical cyclone Fehi, which caused extensive damage when it hit the West Coast early February.
The storm was forecast to bring sustained gale-force winds in places of 60 – 80kmh from Taranaki to Westport, Duncan said.
“Localised gusts could climb over 150kmh in exposed rural areas, possibly higher. Damaging and destructive gusts are possible in all those main West Coast towns,” he said.
More than 100 millimetres of rain could fall within 24 hours in regions where MetService had heavy rain watches in place, including Canterbury, Marlborough, Nelson, parts of the West Coast, Wellington and Horowhenua.
The heavy rain could start in central areas of the country from 1am on Tuesday, and a few hours later in Canterbury and Westland, MetService said. North Otago could be affected from 4pm Tuesday.
“Most of the rain is going to hit the South Island. There’s some heavy rain ahead of the storm today and Tuesday morning for the Wellington area, but the rest of the North Island really doesn’t see anything too major.” Duncan said.
“It’s a South Island rain event that starts in the upper South Island Tuesday morning, and spreads across the rest of the upper and eastern South Island in the afternoon.”
Persistent rain was likely to continue to the end of Wednesday in the upper and eastern South Island, especially Canterbury.
The West Coast, still reeling from the effects of ex-tropical Cyclone Fehi, would see rain from Tuesday afternoon, which “gets very intense into the evening”.
Severe gales could start in Nelson from 1pm Tuesday, and from mid-afternoon Tuesday in other central areas of the country, as well as Westland and the Canterbury High Country north of Tekapo.
The weather situation was quite complex, Zacher said.
A cold front moving up the South Island, stretching from northern Fiordland to about Dunedin, was bringing southeast winds. On Monday, it would start to develop rain and showers for parts of Otago, and a bit more persistent showers and rain for Canterbury.
Another frontal boundary was stretching west from Taranaki, and would start interacting with Gita as it approached.
The result was expected to be a steady band of rain from Taranaki southwards through to Buller and Marlborough.
“That rain is going to start developing later this evening and become quite heavy and persistent across some of those areas.”
Now’s time to plan: civil defence
Civil Defence said Gita had the potential to pack a punch and cause a lot of disruption.
“Now is the perfect time to plan ahead,” Director Sarah Stuart-Black said.
“This means preparing for the possibility of power cuts, water outages and road closures that could leave you or your loved ones stranded.
“It’s also a good idea to have a grab bag ready in case you need to evacuate. If you don’t have a household emergency plan, now’s the time to sit down with your family or flatmates and get it done.”
“Stay safe by staying out of harm’s way. Try and run any important errands before the weather hits so you won’t need to do any non-essential travel in treacherous conditions, and make sure you secure outdoor furniture well in advance.”
Civil Defence advised of tips for people ahead of the storm:
- Secure, or move inside, anything that could cause damage in strong winds
- Close windows and doors, close curtains to prevent injury from breaking windows
- Stay inside and bring your pets inside. If you have to leave, take them with you
- Listen to the radio and follow the instructions of emergency services
- Avoid non-essential travel during severe weather, and never drive through floodwaters
West Coast Regional Council chief executive Mike Meehan said there was a “heightened awareness” of the risk posed by a storm system like Gita in the wake of Fehi, which caused 32 homes to be red-stickered and 27 to be yellow-stickered in the Buller district.
“If we have a reiteration of that when [people are] trying to have builders do restoration work it just sets them back again,” Buller District Mayor Garry Howard said.
Granity man Ken Richards had “four inches” of water come through his Torea St home of eight years during ex-tropical cyclone Fehi. It was now yellow-stickered, and “unliveable”.
The water-damaged carpets had only just been removed on Thursday, and now the West Coast was – yet again – bracing for another blow. But Richards was stoic, saying “it’s just nature, isn’t it?”
“You can’t do anything about it, so you just cop it. You’ve just got to cop it on the chin. We’ll see where we are at the end of it – there’s no use crying over spilled milk, that doesn’t fix anything”.
Richards, who was renting a house in nearby Hector while he worked through his insurance claim, said the forecast gale-force winds were a concern. “There’ll be trees down, roof iron flying – I guarantee it”.
Other local authorities around the South Island had also issued warnings ahead of Cyclone Gita. Christchurch was expected to get between 50mm to 75mm of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Council contractors were checking the stormwater network on Sunday, while residents in flood-prone areas were advised to take “all the usual precautions”, a council spokeswoman said.
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