The recent winter in New Zealand is the warmest on record, according to the island nation’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, the counterpart to NOAA in the United States.
Winter in New Zealand, which runs from June through August, saw an average temperature of 9.8 Celsius (50 F) in 2021 according to the National Institute. That’s 0.2 C higher than the previous highest winter average, which was 2020. It’s 1.3 C higher than the long-term winter average, which consists of the past 112 winters.
Neva Fedaeff, a meteorologist with the National Institute, says that the mild winter was not solely local to New Zealand. It was exaggerated by warm winds from the north, and warmer than normal sea temperatures in the South Pacific. The winter also saw much lower snowfall than usual in the mountains, and most of what did fall was melted by intermittent rains. There is unusually little snowpack in the mountains as New Zealand approaches spring, which could lead to water shortages in the coming months.
A rise in average temperature is not just a slightly warmer winter. It’s a season of larger extremes. Cold snaps, heat waves, flooding, and droughts are all part of a small rise in average temperature, even in just one season in just one small country.
“If we don’t get on top of warming soon, there is going to be grief for large sections of the world,” said Professor James Renwick, a climate scientist and teacher at the Victoria University of Wellington. He predicts that while late 2021 will have a long growing season, potentially good for farmers and herders, the changes are putting pressure on natural ecosystems and long-term complications can be disastrous.
Renwick and Fadaeff both advocate for increased green measures in New Zealand, reducing the country’s emissions, but New Zealand is not large enough to have a massive impact, either good or bad. The sea temperatures and winds that pushed this winter so warm are under the influence of four massive nations on three continents, none of them doing so great at reaching their emission goals either.