As if Lake Wānaka flooding in December wasn’t enough of a wild summer, the start of February marked torrential rain across the South Island, closing roads across the country. Several state highways have been forced to close due to surface flooding and slips, which has caused havoc from locals travelling to Dunedin for the Elton John concert, to tourists and holiday makers now stranded in regions.
On Monday Metservice issued a Red Warning to the Milford Sound, with Lisa Murray, MetService meteorologist and head of weather communications, saying: “Red Warnings were introduced by MetService last year to highlight extreme and impactful weather events and are not issued lightly. There needs to be significant impacts to infrastructure that is of concern to Regional Councils and safety concerns from Emergency Management who are in the area.”
The Crown Range was temporarily closed due to rock falls and has now reopened, but “with significant rainfall forecast throughout the day there is a high chance of further rockfalls around the district,” said QLDC. Mount Aspiring Road was forced to close from the Treble Cone ski field turnoff. A heavy rain warning was in place for the headwaters of Otago Lakes and Rivers, Southern Lakes and Central Otago, but ieased off around 11pm Tuesday night. SH 6 Frankton to Kingston, SH 94 Milford to Te Anau, Park Boundary to Chasm, SH 1 Gore to Clinton, and SH 6 Fox Glacier to Haast are all closed, with closures ranging from overnight to a potential week.
All this rain brings one important question: can we expect a Lake Wānaka flooding event similar to what we saw in December? The short answer is probably not. ORC Duty Flood Officer Pete Stevenson says “In the Queenstown Lakes District, Lakes Wakatipu and Wānaka are rising slowly in response to heavy rain in the headwaters.” However, he does not expect Lake Wānaka to pose any issues at this stage. “Unlike the December event, which was more localised over the headwaters feeding Lakes Wakatipu and Wānaka, this week’s rainfall is widespread over most of the region,” says Stevenson. That being said, stay safe on the roads and try not to forget your umbrella this summer.