Major flooding swamps New Zealand after summer's worth of rain falls in 15 hours
Rainfall amounts ranged from 1 to 2 inches per hour for three to four hours, and parts of the city ended up with more than 10 inches in less than a day. Auckland International Airport set a daily, monthly and all-time 24-hour rainfall record, accumulating 9.80 inches of rain Friday.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand – A state of emergency was declared after heavy rain led to widespread flooding in Auckland, New Zealand, on Friday. Floodwaters forced roads to be closed as people became trapped in their vehicles during the evening commute.
Rainfall amounts ranged from 1 to 2 inches per hour for three to four hours, and parts of the city ended up with more than 10 inches in less than a day.
Auckland International Airport set a daily, monthly and all-time 24-hour rainfall record, accumulating 9.80 inches of rain Friday. The previous 24-hour record was only 6.37 inches, set on Feb. 16, 1985.
"10 inches is about what Auckland typically gets over an entire summer, but it happened in a 15-hour period," said Ben Noll, a meteorologist at the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in Auckland.
New Zealand's MetService said not only was Friday the city's wettest 24 hours on record – this January is setting monthly records too. Auckland's previous wettest January was in 1986 when 7.87 inches of rain was recorded, while the city's all-time wettest month was July 1998 with 11.81 inches. Those records have now been broken because of Friday's flooding rainfall.
"Jan 2023 so far 32cm (12.60 inches)! That's a massive amount of rain," the agency tweeted.
A moisture-rich subtropical low dropped into northern New Zealand and brought intense rainfall to Auckland, the island nation's most populated city, just as the Friday evening commute ramped up. It led to catastrophic flooding in the supercity, home to a third of New Zealand's population.
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"Cyclone Hale slammed the country just a few weeks ago," Noll said. "What's more is that there is a marine heatwave unfolding in New Zealand's coastal waters, adding even more moisture to the equation."
Auckland's emergency management said that conditions are expected to get worse as thunderstorms are in the forecast through Saturday.
"Passengers on a cruise ship docking in Auckland's harbor earlier Friday could have mistaken the typically sunny city as a tropical rain forest," Noll said. "This has been a theme this summer, as La Niña tends to bring moist, northerly winds to New Zealand, increasing the risk for tropical deluges."
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Auckland's mayor confirmed at least one death from the flooding. Flights into Auckland were also delayed or canceled as areas of the airport terminal were completely underwater.
Video by Christo Montes below shows several dramatic scenes, including a lane of State Highway 1 overflowing with water.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said all relevant government agencies were working to help in the "extraordinary set of circumstances."
"The emergency response is underway and the government is ready to assist as needed," he said in a tweet.
British singer Elton John, who was visiting Auckland, saw his outdoor concert at Mt. Smart Stadium canceled.
"I'm absolutely heartbroken that tonight’s show in Auckland couldn’t go ahead," he said as he took to Instagram to talk to his fans. "I was at the venue and determined to play as the weather reports we received in advance weren’t fully conclusive. Ultimately, we had to follow the local emergency services' decision to cancel."
Lawmaker Ricardo Menéndez posted a video to Twitter saying he had to evacuate his home as water aggressively rose.
"We found ourselves with someone’s dog for a while before leaving," he said. "Thinking of all the locals who have had been affected by today’s floods."