Start of the golden weather
By EMMA PAGE - Sunday Star Times
Last updated 08:23 23/08/2009

If you thought there was a hint of spring in the air, you're right. After an extremely cold winter, temperatures for the first few weeks of August have been one to two degrees warmer than normal around the country.

Last week, magnolias and cherry blossoms were out in style in Auckland, and daffodils and other spring bulbs were bravely beginning to bloom in Wellington and Christchurch.

And the good news is that the outlook is stable. Average temperatures and rainfall - including everything from Nelson's 200-odd hours of sunshine and 90mm of rain for a typical October, to Milford Sound's 690mm of rain, or Dunedin's paltry 145 hours of sunshine - are expected over the next three months.

Senior climate scientist Georgina Griffiths from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) said that after the record-setting cold month of May, and a chilly June and July, spring was beginning. "Spring has sprung a wee bit early and the expectation is everything is back to normal."

Spring is usually considered to start in September and go through to November.

But it may not be such good news for summer and the Christmas holidays. Waiting in the wings is an El Nino weather pattern - a temporary increase in sea temperatures in the Pacific that arrives at irregular intervals every few years and causes weather changes around the globe. Griffiths said Niwa was watching the seas in the tropical South Pacific and the corresponding changes in the atmosphere, which were currently looking "El Nino-like".

If the El Nino conditions continue to intensify it would mean more frequent and stronger south-westerlies, and the possibility of drought for the northern and eastern areas of both islands as higher temperatures and the wind dried out the soil.

Not every El Nino is the same but the weather pattern generally means cooler summer air and sea temperatures for most of New Zealand - which could be a dampener for holiday makers. "Going swimming in an El Nino can be notably cooler," said Griffiths.

But some areas are likely to escape the cool El Nino weather, especially northern and eastern regions including Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Nelson, Marlborough and Canterbury, because the wind tends to become dry and warm up as it travels over hills.

Other areas that may experience a warmer summer compared to the rest of the country include Northland, Coromandel, Wairarapa and the Bay of Plenty. It could be wetter than normal in Buller, Westland, Fiordland and possibly Southland and Taranaki.

Predicting weather a long time in advance was difficult and forecasters said that in around six weeks they would have a better idea of what summer would be like.

But around the country it seems spring fever has already hit. There has been an influx of visitors at the Auckland Botanic Gardens, which features a "spring valley" walk with magnolias, camellias, blossoms and daffodils.

Visitors were last week also enjoying spring blooms in Wellington, while in Christchurch the daffodils were just beginning to poke their heads through the ground and the magnolias were out. Wellington visitor service officer Charmaine Scott said the fragrant walk in the Botanic Garden was living up to its name and the magnolias had come out early.

"I think spring is here a month early."

And the warmer weather also brings more activity on the exercise front: gyms around the country are reporting customers coming in to prepare for bikini season.

From here.