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Nelson floods

Written By: - Date published: 11:23 am, December 19th, 2011 - 41 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, ETS, food - Tags:

It’s Nelson / Tasman’s turn to get hammered by nature. Commiserations to all those affected, especially those who have had their homes damaged or destroyed. After Christchurch I think everyone in the country knows some that this has happened to, and what a heartbreak it is.

Climate change is causing extreme weather events to occur more frequently. We can’t point to any single event like this (or the Philippines floods, also in the headlines now with 650 dead), and say it was “caused” by climate change. All we can say is that events of this nature are going to get more and more common.

With our own head-in-the-sand government busy bailing out failed finance companies and cutting back on its own ETS, the Monbiot piece quoted in James’ recent post, might have been written just for NZ.

41 comments on “Nelson floods”

  1. tc 1

    Basic physics:
    The earth’s getting warmer, is it man or isn’t is you can put aside, it’s a fact it’s getting warmer.
    More warmth puts more moisture from the oceans into the atmospehere.
    More moisture in the atmosphere gives the weather systems more energy to push around.
    More energy means more water comes back down, higher winds, stronger seas etc etc
    And the cycle gets stronger each time around.

    NZ will find this a huge challenge with the immense water frontage and we’ve been lucky to dodge a few tropical events that lose energy on the way down.

    Luck is running out for our cool climate, get used to these massive water movements.

  2. joe90 2


    A fast-moving glacier on the Greenland Ice Sheet expanded in a geologic instant several millennia ago, growing in response to cooling periods that lasted not much longer than a century, according to a new Arctic study.


    More recently, in 2011, Briner’s team published a study in Quaternary Science Reviews demonstrating that glaciers can also grow at a dramatic rate. In that paper, they outlined how Jakobshavn Isbrae, which retreated about 40 kilometers inland between 1850 and 2010, expanded outward at a similar pace during a cooling period about 200 years ago

  3. One Anonymous Bloke 3

    Climate change is causing extreme weather events to occur more frequently. We can’t point to any single event like this (or the Philippines floods, also in the headlines now with 650 dead), and say it was “caused” by climate change.

    The extra moisture in the atmosphere means that all weather events have a greenhouse warming component, while the chances of extremes have increased. We have loaded the dice, as this article at Real Climate explains.

  4. Infused 4

    More and more comon like people connected to the net and technology. That’s the reason. This was happening 5 years ago but we didn’t have the mass media we do now and the interet

    • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1

      this was happening 5 years ago then it bears no relationship to climate trends, which are measured over decadal timespans in order to distinguish between noise and signal.

      Tamino at Open Mind explains.

  5. Ianupnorth 5

    Don’t worry John key will fix it – when he gets back from his holiday in Hawaii, till then enjoy the mud!

  6. Adrian 6

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, none of this shit never happened under Helen. Key is seriously bad luck. In non-fiction and popular fiction like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, the Gulag Archipeligo, the Name of the Rose etc, shit only happens in the time of nasty devious bastards.
    I bet we have a hurricane, a volcanic eruption and a few extra agricultural scares to add to PSA in the next little while.

    • Macro 6.1

      Another sad attempt at diversion …
      meanwhile back in the REAL world

      • One Anonymous Bloke 6.1.1

        Minor quibble with the article cited: it discusses modelled scenarios in the Tropics, so its introduction as “real world” is a little problematic…especially in a New Zealand context. The last thing we need is Tropicgate 😉

    • ghostwhowalksnz 6.2

      The Nelson floods occurred because of the ‘worst ever’ rainfall event recorded in NZ,

      the second Christchurch quake which had ‘the highest ground accelerations’ ever recorded in NZ.

      The worst ever offshore spill in NZ – yes the Rena

      An Omen ?

    • felix 6.3

      Adrian I think you’re right. Key is just one of those bastards who sucks up good fortune for himself at the expense of everyone and everything around him.

      Related: last time I got decent lemons from the supermarket was November 2008.

    • Colonial Viper 6.4

      Yep, without putting too fine an edge on it, Key as PM is literally a hex on the entire country and our peoples.

      Expect to see more completely unexpected, large scale bad news stories in the next 6 months.

      • johnm 6.4.1

        Yes He can always Swan off to Hawaii and escape the underclass and the other problems like climate change deluges. He’ll be relaxing on the beach looking at the bathing beauties when his wife (and the diplomatic protection squad) aren’t keeping tabs on him!

        You got to admire the man he’s made it big time and life is soooo easy! Just Swan around being nice and pretty! And sell off stuff! But not the flash house in Hawaii!

        Meanwhile poor kids in ole NZ stay that way-being a member of the underclass is not a blessed state-never mind!

  7. RedLogix 7

    What faintly annoys me is when the media constantly use the phrase “worst flooding in 50 years”, which carries the implicit assumption that sometime about 50 years ago there was a worse flood.

    In fact this is often not the case at all and the data they are report means something quite different.

    • felix 7.1

      Interesting. Any chance of a lay-explanation of how this works?

      • RedLogix 7.1.2

        Well for a start it can mean that records only go back 50 years; in other words this event was the single worst flood in that time… and while a worse one may have occured before then … we simply don’t have the records to prove the case either way. (I think that’s the case with this event in Nelson.)

        Also confusing the issue is the very common idea of a ‘return frequency’ for an event. When engineers design things that need to withstand natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, tsunami and the like… they need to have some sense of the probability of the severity of the events they are designing against and the degree of defense (read expense) they need to incorporate into their design.

        A city water supply may well be designed to have enough storage against a 1 in 20 year drought; ie in any one year there is a 5% chance of water restrictions. If the modelling suggests that demand has increased, or the climate has changed and the number drops to say 1 in 10 years then that may well trigger the city to spend money on more storage.

        A commercial buildiing may well be designed to sustain with no structural damage a 1 in 50 year earthquake; a hospital a 1 in 200 year event and something exceptional like a Civil Defense HQ say a 1 in 1000 year event. Essentially the concept is a design criteria.

        So when the local authority reports an event like these floods in Nelson as a “1 in 50 year event” they could be simply saying that “this sized flood is what our models suggested had a 2% chance of occuring in any one year”. What it doesn’t say is that we have actually HAD a flood of this size about 50 years ago… or indeed anytime within the last 50 years. It’s merely a statistical statement about estimated probabilties.

        Now if hypothetically the media had reported this as “the worst flood in 49 year”…. and then went on to detail the disasterous flood of 1962, the we would know exactly what they were talking about. But instead what we are usually left with is some vague and probably meaningless misinterpretation of what was said to a non-scientifically trained reporter who failed to drill down into the exact meaning of what they were being told/

        • felix

          Ah I see, thanks for that.

        • Armchair Critic

          You are correct, it’s the old exceedence probability to return interval translation. If it were the worst failure of the media to critically examine what they were publishing I would be very happy.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          It seems a bit daft to describe the events in Nelson as a “one in fifty year” occurrence – in fact they set a new record, and we know that the frequency and magnitude of most weather extremes are forecast to increase. “Once in fifty years” also implies stability.

  8. well in Golden Bay they called it a more than 100 year event and with all of the slips, I can see it. The only reason the road is open north is that the milk has to be sorted. The big damage in Pohara was the logging debris, in the hills, coming down and filling houses with silt, logs and mud – like a foot below the ceiling for some houses.


    Anyway, here we just sort it out – pretty well like everywhere else.

    Community is not just the answer – it is the only answer

  9. John D 9

    I was glad to see Damian O’Conner explaining that the logging in Golden Bay may be at fault for some of the washouts, instead of jumping on the climate change bandwagon.

    Good man, that fella

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      Damien O’Connor :)

      And yes he is 😀

      Though I hope he voted Cunliffe 😛

    • One Anonymous Bloke 9.2

      Loggers may be partly to blame for the washouts, but they didn’t supply the record-breaking rainfall.

      • John D 9.2.1

        Yes but my point is that it is dishonest to jump on every extreme weather event and blame it on “climate change”, for political reasons.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Dishonest like people saying “there’s no global warming” because it’s snowing?

          Or “dishonest” like people who understand the issue tearing their hair out trying to counter a relentless stream of contrarian bullshit, and naturally taking any opportunity to get the point across?

          Or “dishonest” like: given that an increase in frequency and severity of extremes is precisely what climate science tells us to expect, we’re lucky they don’t add “we told you so”?

          • John D

            So you think it’s OK to push your political agenda every time it rains?

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              Do you think it’s clever to pretend that there are “sides” to climatology that would justify referring to its findings as “a political agenda”?

              Did you deliberately conflate “record-breaking rainfall” and “every time it rains” or was it just a stupid thing to say?

              • John D

                There are “sides”. It is not being clever, it is a simple statement of fact. Maybe you should read Mike Hulme’s book “Why we disagree about Climate Change”

                There are huge uncertainties in the science. We know virtually nothing about climate. The science is in its infancy.

                Incidentally, I think it was Mike Hulme who recently said that we can’t attribute every extreme weather event to “climate change”. Maybe he is becoming a bit more circumspect or honest about the whole thing these days.

                • RedLogix

                  Incidentally, I think it was Mike Hulme who recently said that we can’t attribute every extreme weather event to “climate change”.

                  Maybe not; but we can’t attribute an increasing frequency of such extreme events to an increasing level of energy and moisture in the atmosphere… then what?

                  The big re-insurance companies seem to have made up their minds.. These guys have the biggest and most detailed databases of all and it’s their business to know what the probabilities are. They’ve concluded that climate change is real and is stacking the odds in favour of these extreme events.

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  “There are huge uncertainties in the science.”

                  Name one, and quantify the uncertainty, or admit you haven’t the first idea of what you’re talking about.

                  Incidentally, I think it was John D who cherry-picked statements made by Mike Hulme to make it sound as though Dr. Hulme has serious doubts about climatology. This led me to my conclusion that John D is either ignorant or deceitful, but it also occurs to me that he may just have a very low IQ.

  10. One Anonymous Bloke 10

    There are still huge uncertainties regarding gravity, in fact there is no universally accepted “theory of gravity” – although Einstein collects a mounting pile of evidence.

    Great article at Physics Today (from October), comparing climate denial with opposition to Copercernicus’ heliocentric theory of planetary motion.

    “Despite the power of the new theory and its observational successes, many people, even in the scientific community, could not relinquish the idea that the universe was built around them. Their belief was so strong that some scientists simply refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, and others invented ridiculous explanations for what it showed.” :)

  11. Jenny 11

    In the Northern Hemisphere and here in New Zealand as well as the recent record breaking flood in Nelson, the last two winters in the South Island have seen the biggest snow falls ever recorded.

    What is going on?

    According to New Scientist; “Historically, it was not that cold”

    In fact, during these past two winters the northern hemisphere as a whole it was warmer than the long term average.

    New Scientist: Wild Winters, 17 December 2011

    Though the temperature has to drop below freezing for it to snow, snow requires moist air, and warming is making the atmosphere wetter. But, as the temperature drops more than two or three degrees below freezing snow becomes less likely, this is because very cold air cannot hold moisture as easily and is drier.

    Also, due to thermodynamics, colder air is less likely to rise into the atmosphere to form into the clouds in which snow flakes form and fall to earth from.

    And when winter comes I predict that Snowmageddon will be the next ‘natural disaster’ to hit us.

    Remember, you heard it here first.

    • Colonial Viper 11.1

      More snow clearly proves that global warming is a crock 😛

      More snow storms in an age of energy depletion. That will be fun to manage through.

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