Temperatures during June 2021, the first month of winter and for most ski areas in New Zealand when the season normally starts, have hit a new record high.
Although book-ended by two “Antarctic Polar Blasts” at the start and end of the month, temperatures in the country overall last month were 2C higher than normal, and two dozen locations reported record June highs. Records from the country’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research’s (NIWA) go back more than 110 years to the start of the 20th century.
As markedly warm and dry as the weather was, there were also clear weather extremes with a “once in a century” snowstorm hitting the country at the start of the month depositing up to 4 metre drifts of snow on higher slopes at Mt Hutt, traditionally the first ski area in the country to fully open with natural snow cover.
After that though things got much warmer and many areas delayed opening or did so with only a small area of minimal snow cover. Things have generally improved over the past week or so however as we’ve entered July with another, smaller, “polar blast” last week and a major snowfall expected over the next few days. This has allowed most of the country’s ski areas to open now.
“(Climate change) …will pose increasing challenges on the ski-industry because it will be more marginal to operate earlier in the season with the lack of snowfall, or with temperatures that are too warm to enable artificial snow to be made,” a spokesperson for NIWA said.
New Zealand’s ski areas have operated relatively normally through the pandemic thanks to the government’s successful and world-leading suppression of the virus. The main problems faced have been financial with international borders closed, causing problems both with visitor numbers due to the lack of international guests, and staffing, which caused at least one area to say they couldn’t open due to lack of staff, even when conditions were good. The ‘Transtasman’ quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia had allowed for more tourism although this has been a little stop-start in recent weeks with temporary closures of the link to individual cities due to small numbers of Delta-virus cases at some.
NIWA does not have high hopes for snowfall for the rest of the country’s 2021 ski season as the current regional climate conditions in the wider world that have caused the issues in June continue to be in place.
Although snow cover at most new Zealand areas remains thin, Mt Hutt still reports over 2 metres (7 feet) of snow lying from that big storm before the start of the season.