Cyclone Gabrielle making landfall in New Zealand
Although Cyclone Gabrielle is just making landfall in New Zealand’s North Island, one-third of the country’s population is already under a state of emergency by this once-in-a-century storm. The impacts of this storm will peak tonight aligning with the midnight high tide.
In January, this region was hit by what is considered the ‘biggest climate event’ in New Zealand’s history, as per the Guardian. New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, has warned that ‘Extreme weather event has come on the back of extreme weather event,’ magnifying the impacts.
In addition to the high tide, New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research warns that this storm will be a ‘record’ storm surge of 0.7m on top of waves reaching 12m. ‘Red’ warnings from MetService have also hit a record with winds topping 150-160km.
But New Zealand, a polar country? Not geographically, but is it becoming so environmentally? A southern hemisphere country, New Zealand is far from the Arctic–but the presence of the northern pole is still felt in the land of the Silver Fern. Warming four times faster than the rest of the planet, the Arctic is a driving force for warming globally. The current New Zealand summer has brought unusually warm waters, which fuel more powerful cyclones. Part of this warming also stems from La Niña, the increasing effects of which are a concern with Antarctic heating.
So what? Although several factors are in play, what is important to note is that the stability (and instability!) of the polar regions affects the entire planet. A warming Arctic is a warning to all. These storms are going to become norms rather than records as polar impacts heighten global risk unless emissions drop radically and immediately.
Photo by Brett Phibbs for the NZ Herald