27 March 2015

Balloons Over Waikato

Hot air balloons are a bit of a foreign subject to me, but seeing as I had a day off that coincided with some clear weather at the annual Balloons Over Waikato festival, my partner and I nipped down the road to Hamilton to see what all the fuss was about:

16 March 2015


Once a year or so, I get a guaranteed break from flying when a Tropical Cyclone manages to spin it's way into New Zealand's airspace. Last year it was Luci and June, and before that it was Wilma.

As always, there was plenty of media hype and everyone prepared for the worst with Cyclone Pam, although there was very little damage experienced locally which I am particularly thankful for seeing as both the aircraft I currently fly were parked out in open at Ardmore over the weekend!

This wasn't the case up in Vanuatu however, where several days earlier, the system was rated as a Category 5 Super-Cyclone with a core pressure of 896hPa and sustained winds above 107 knots, and gusts greater than 151 knots as it passed through! Multiple fatalities were reported and an estimated 90 percent of the nation's buildings were impacted by the storm's effects making it the worst natural disaster in the history of the island nation. The RNZAF have so far sent two C-130's with aid, supplies and emergency workers out of Whenuapai this morning.

By the time the cyclone passed abeam the tip of the North Island, the relativity cooler waters surrounding our country had slowed the storm's winds and raised its core pressure back into the 900's, but it was still packing plenty of energy and Civil Defence issued weather warnings for Northland, Bay of Plenty, East Cape and Hawkes Bay districts with an upper level jetstream over the country pushing the centre of rotation out to the east away from the upper North Island. By Sunday evening, the eye was 297nm (550km) northeast of Auckland, and by midday today it reportedly sat 49nm (80km) off East Cape, now classified as an Ex-Tropical Low.

This didn't stop gale force wings reaching the mainland yesterday however, with sea level gusts on Great Barrier Island reaching 77 knots and 59 knots over the Hauraki Gulf. Huge swells of 13-20 ft along the shore, and 20–26 ft out to sea were experienced along the East Coast closing several coastal roads whilst voluntary evacuations took place in the Mahia region.

The forecasted position of the 945 hPa core at 1am today
The jetstream at FL370 clearly guiding the storm away
It was pretty tame over the city however, and whilst Auckland Airports METAR's hit a low of 989hPa between 0530 to 0730 this morning, the highest wind report was only 14025G35KT at 0600 local. As I am typing this at 3pm, blue skies have returned and the wind has subsided to a 15 knot south-westerly.

The Chatham Islands are next in the firing line where a state of local emergency has been declared. The centre of the depression is expected to be 130nm (240km) away from them come Tuesday night, with 85 knot winds and 6m swells forecast for the group.