Wild weather strands 1 000 tourists, spawns over 857 000 lightning strikes over New Zealand


More than 857 000 lightning strikes have been recorded over New Zealand in 72 hours starting midnight local time Friday, December 6, 2019. Severe storms, landslides, slips, and flooding in the South Island cut off towns and trapped roughly 1 000 foreign tourists.

Evacuation orders have been issued in the Timaru district, between Christchurch and Dunedin where flooding has cut off State Highway 1.

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Most were trapped on the west coast in the towns of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef, according to the Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management. Some had no choice but to sleep in their cars.

The office said it had established contact with the stranded tourists for aid. Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said food and water deliveries had been arranged for those who were stuck.

Officials fear that the aftermath of flooding and landslides may take months to clear up.

A state of emergency has been declared in Timaru after the Rangitata River burst its banks. Moreover, the river may reach its highest level in 20 years following a major storm front.

Tens of thousands lost access to internet and phone networks following the harsh weather conditions.

According to a spokesperson for Spark, the largest telecom provider in the country, the outage "affected 163 cell sites which service all landline, mobile and broadband customers south of Ashburton."

Parts of the South Island have already seen more than 300% of their December average.

On Saturday alone, December 7, more than 250 mm (9.8 inches) of rain was recorded in South Island. Tourist spots Queenstown and Wanaka have already measured three times their December average.

Booming thunder and gales over 100 km/h (62 mph) were seen in Wellington.

Also during the same period, close to 100 000 lightning strikes hit the area in 24 hours, which was a record. MetService said the previous records had only seen 44 000 strikes over both land and sea.

"We've recorded close to 100,000 lightning strikes in the last 24 hours. I don't think we've seen that amount of strikes recorded before," said meteorologist Andy Best.

MetService meteorologist Paul Ngamanu said Wellingtonians can look forward to a good weak as the weather is forecast to improve.

The storm's intensity was unusual for this time of the year, Ngamanu added.

Featured image credit: NIWA


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