Awaiting an “Australia-sized” storm

After a fair bit of wind last night, there’s an eerie calm in Wellington as we brace for a storm that has variously been described as “gigantic”, “the biggest storm on the planet” and “Australia-sized”.

I’m not holding out much hope for my 5km fun run in Petone on Sunday.

And for a country with a fresh memory of the Canterbury quake, such foreboding descriptions have had an unsettling effect. Metservice claims to have received numerous calls from concerned people and yesterday went so far as to issue a statement distancing itself from the early descriptions of the storm:

The expression ’Massive storm heading for New Zealand’ didn’t come from MetService. It conjures up impressions of a huge low swooping down on the country. Today, Thursday 16 September, we’ve had calls from media, business people and members of the public expressing their concerns about a ’massive storm’ and seeking more information. We’ve advised some of the media outlets covering this story of our dislike of the emotive language being used and asked that they attribute the source of these quotes.

Despite that, the emotive language continues to flow – today’s Herald story opens like this:

Auckland will not be immune when one of the biggest storms on the planet hits today.

But what does that mean? Is it the strongest storm weather analysts can see globally at the moment? Does it geographically cover the largest area of all storms currently being tracked? Does it matter how spread out a storm front is? Where’s the context!?

Watching Tamiti present the weather last night on TV One, I was expecting a massive blob the size (and shape) of Australia to loom menacingly into view. There was obviously plenty of weather approaching from the southwest of the country, but the picture seemed a bit more muddied than the headlines have suggested. Metservice acknowledged this as it presented some weather maps yesterday to give some much-needed perspective:

For the next few days, the weather over New Zealand is expected to be severe in some places, at some times. But not everywhere. Early on the afternoon of Wednesday 15 September, MetService issued a media release about this. Finer details — the what, where and when — of the expected severe weather are described in the various Watches and Warnings routinely issued by MetService.

So we wait to see what this “gigantic” storm will mean for us and particularly for those in Canterbury still recovering from their last extreme natural event…

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