My favourite situation came upon New Zealand on Saturday with a complex area of low pressure sitting on us that moved slowly. Infact, as I write this (Monday 18th Oct) it’s sitting over the North Island still (2 days later) and thunderstorms should happen up there today like they did yesterday in areas.
Dewpoints were sitting around the 7 to 8 degree mark during this day, so they were just on a threshold to give some interesting weather, possibly just not high enough though to create a good thunderstorm which didn’t happen like on the 8th of August (Early start to season chase) but something else caught our eye! Temperatures were not the best at 13 C possibly 14 C in other areas but the pressure was low around 1000mb so that helped. The upper air was reasonable cold at around -26 degrees celsius (500mb) so this also helped aswell, the cold upper air also helped produce an awesome hail shower that me and Steve got caught in. Read on!
Steve who I had turned into a storm chaser by this stage came over around 10am on the morning in question as we knew something was going to happen that day but we weren’t to sure when. We were going to install a car stereo into his car but things started to develop a bit quicker than anticipated so we were off! Biggish cumulus possibly at a congestus state was building to the SW of us but by the time we got into town it had died down a bit and things didn’t look as exciting to the south anymore. We headed into my work to have a look a various satellite images etc to see what was up, we couldn’t deduce much from what we saw so I suggested we go up to Victoria Park on top of the Port Hills to get a better view of what was going on. The sun had actually broken through at this point and I noticed small Cu starting to develop just to the north from where I was in town. So up we went to Victoria Park, we stayed there for about 1/2 an hour and saw those small little Cu clouds build into good Cu congestus to the NNE out over what looked like the Waimak river mouth. Other Cu was staring to developing to the east and behind us aswell but to us it didn’t seem to have as much potential as the clouds to the north. We decided to leave and headed towards the NNE.
After stopping to fuel up, getting a bite to eat and a drink we headed through town and onto State Highway 1 going north. We got to an area just south of the Waimak main road bridge and turned right down a road called Dickies Road and drove down it a bit but not too far. We pulled over to the side of the road and sat there for a bit, I photographed and Steve filmed the dark bases. I also noted a nice line of Cu towering up through a mid layer of cloud to the north. After observing what was going on we decided what to do. No lightning was happening and only sporadic drops of large rain was falling plus some very small hail. We thought it would be a good bet to stay on the north side of the Waimak river so we drove back down Dickies Rd and then onto the highway. Let alone did we know this dark based cloud we were just looking at was about to produce something!
When over the Waimak bridge we took a left down a road called Tram Road and then through a small settlement called Clarkville, just out of Clarkville to our right guess what we saw!!! Steve shouted, “Funnel Cloud!!” It must’ve just come down but we didn’t see it as it came down. We pulled over immediately and jumped a paddock fence to video and photograph the funnel (it was now about NZDT 12:30pm), I was shaking like a leaf! It’s the first one him and me have ever seen!! So, a first for us today! We couldn’t believe it, it was only about 500m away (maybe less). A lady who must own the paddock we were on was coming down a drive next to the paddock, and I was thinking “Oh bugger”, but Steve pointed to the funnel we were looking at and she nodded and smiled as if to say, “that’s all right” so we were ok. Steve recommended we go after it but I was a little weary as I thought it would disappear soon thinking that these NZ events are quite short lasting. I thought we’re not going to get much closer to it here so we went after it. Ducking and diving down through the various roads in the area which I can’t remember we drove to within about 150m from it, it had gone into the cloud a bit more but it was fatter looking. We then followed it more and got right underneath the spiraling cloud mass above us, no funnel was coming down at this point though. When it got about 100m from us the funnel came back again and we photographed and filmed it. It never touched the ground but it was cool to watch! The rotating base when it went just infront of us was great to watch. You could see winds / cloud coming in from the south on the west side of it and then on our side you could see the winds coming in from the north spiraling into a circle where the funnel was. You could see two nice clearish sort of slots showing the rotation which you can see in the pics but it looked much better with our own eyes of course! The cloud above us was definitely cork-screwing, I could see a band of cumulus through the murk up above me twisting around and up. Initially when we first saw it, it was about 2/3 of the way to the ground but went up a bit by the time we got out of the car to photograph it. The spinning base of the cloud persisted for about 1/2 an hour or maybe slightly longer which is quite amazing!, the funnel came in and out at times but when it went in it was never for that long, it was out of the cloud most of the time. Heavy rain and then hail (5-6mm in diameter) began to fall and that’s when the funnel disappeared. The hail falling down was quite hard and loud when we got in the car . I think I may have seen a flash during this period but apart from that we never saw any lightning which was unfortunate but the funnel cloud sure made up for that!
I got in touch with a photographer Pam Johnson as I heard a funnel photo had appeard in the Northern Outlook from this day, she had taken a few photos of the funnel looking east while in the Clarkville area, you get a good clear view of it. Thankyou Pam for sharing these images!
We were in this hail shaft for about 6 or 7 minutes driving slowly as it was hard to see, we drove out of the heavy rain and hail as the cloud was dissipating and couldn’t give us much more than that so I told Steve to drive to other interesting looking bases to the west which unfortunately ended up producing only rain.
The following day saw a few more convergences happened over Christchurch with some good rain and a bit of hail was reported by John Gaul at his place in Somerfeild. Steven Graham out in Templeton took a great panorama of one of these convergences showing the rain core situated over Christchurch city which gave the hail to John.
After looking at maps etc when I got home I figured we must’ve travelled from just out of Clarkville in a NNW direction (the funnel took this path) to an area west of Rangiora on John’s Road. This means the funnel travelled for about 10 to 12 km in a strait line. That’s quite far!!
By the time those bases to the west were above us we were near Cust, Steve had to pick up something from his brothers in Oxford so we went there and then through the Waimak Gorge over the bridge and then down the Old West Coast Road back home to Christchurch. All up, 250km done! It was worth it! Once near my place a big feed of Fish and Chips was in order after a days chasing, once at home we had tea and waited to see if my picture of the funnel cloud would appear on One News after the weather as I sent one off to them around 5:00pm which was the time we got back. They didn’t show it or mention it…. Oh well, bugger!
When we got back to my place a convergence line was developing over Christchurch with some ok looking Cu congestus that went up high but it unfortunately died down as something was lacking just like most of the day hence no good thunderstorms developed.