Annual Climate Summary 2012

Slightly cooler than average for most areas .

The year 2012: Slightly cooler than average for most areas.


A relatively dry year for western areas of both Islands. Above normal rainfall for Gisborne, parts of Central Otago, and between Oamaru and Timaru. 


Below average temperatures over the northeast South Island, also Wellington, Wairarapa, parts of the Manawatu, and between Tararua District and the Waikato. Near or slightly below average temperatures elsewhere. 


Sunnier than normal for western areas from Te Kuiti to the Kapiti Coast, as well as the West Coast of the South Island. Below normal sunshine for Wellington, Wairarapa, Blenheim, Northland and Central Otago. Near normal sunshine elsewhere.

Soil moisture

At the end of the year significant soil moisture deficits were present in eastern areas of both Islands, as well as Auckland, Manawatu, Wellington, Nelson, Otago, and central Southland.


The year 2012 was rather dry and sunny in western areas of both Islands, but annual rainfall in eastern areas of both Islands was generally near normal or above normal. Many regions experienced a somewhat cool year.

Annual mean sea level pressures were slightly lower than usual across New Zealand in 2012, but the circulation anomaly for the year was rather weak. More easterly circulation than normal affected the country for the first five months of the year, as well as in August. A change took place in the second half of the year, with more frequent southwesterly airflows than usual in June, September, October, and November. July and December were influenced by frequent anticyclones, and more northerly quarter winds, overall.

The large-scale climate setting was primarily driven by a moderate La Niña event at the start of the year, but this eased back to neutral in autumn. Although ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean reached the El Niño threshold by spring, the atmosphere did not develop an El Niño pattern and neutral conditions continued through the remainder of 2012.

Mean annual temperatures were below average in the northeast of the South Island, as well as for Wellington, Wairarapa, parts of the Manawatu, and between the Tararua District and the Waikato. Mean annual temperatures were generally near or slightly below average elsewhere. The nation-wide average temperature for 2012 was 12.5°C (0.1°C below the 1971–2000 annual average), using NIWA's seven-station temperature series which begins in 1909 .

Annual rainfall totals for 2012 were below normal (less than 80 percent of annual normal) in western areas of the North Island between Wanganui and the Kapiti Coast, and for Fiordland. It was the driest year on record for Wanganui and Secretary Island. It was also a relatively dry year (with rainfall between 80 and 100 percent of annual normal) for the south, west, and north of the South Island, and across much of the remainder of the North Island (except for Gisborne). Above normal rainfall (more than 120 percent of annual normal) was observed in Gisborne, as well as for parts of Central Otago, and between Oamaru and Timaru.

The year 2012 was a sunny one for western areas of the North Island from Te Kuiti southwards to the Kapiti Coast, as well as for the West Coast of the South Island. It was the sunniest year on record for Te Kuiti, New Plymouth, Paraparaumu, and Greymouth. This sunshine pattern reflects the enhanced easterly winds that occurred for the first five months of the year, as well as in August. In contrast, below normal annual sunshine totals (below 95 percent of annual normal) were observed for the Wairarapa, Wellington, Blenheim, Central Otago, and Northland. Elsewhere, sunshine totals were generally close to the annual normal.

The year 2012 will be remembered for extremely heavy snowfall on 6 June. Snowfall was heavy and to very low levels over Canterbury, Arthur's Pass, Otago, West Coast, and Marlborough. Afternoon temperatures in Canterbury, Blenheim, around Arthurs Pass, and on the West Coast on the 6th set new low records for the month, and in some cases, broke all-time (any month) records, too. Maximum temperatures on 6 June in Canterbury struggled to reach even 1 degree, with heavy snow falling throughout the daylight hours.

And it was a year in which 14 tornadoes or waterspouts were observed, including a tornado which touched down near Hobsonville, Auckland, on 6 December, tragically killing three people.

Severe frosts were widespread and frequent in the second half of June; and unusually late frosts on 7 and 8 November were problematic for some.

Heat waves and extreme high temperatures were generally lacking in 2012. In January and February, La Niña's cloudy and wet conditions meant that the typical summertime swelter was absent. In contrast, winter warmth was periodically observed – with northerly winds producing unusual warmth during the second half of July, 25-27 August, the last two days of September, and the last week of October. Ex-Tropical Cyclone Evan slowly approached the northern North Island between 22 and 27 December, dragging very warm and humid subtropical air onto the country. Humidity levels were very high during this period over the North Island. The northeast air stream also produced extremely high Christmas Day and Boxing Day temperatures in western areas which were in the 'lee', namely Taranaki to Wellington, as well as Nelson. Elsewhere, numerous extreme maximum temperature records occurred during the week around Christmas due to warm windy northwesterly conditions.

In 2012, there were eight particularly notable rainfall events. On 22-23 February, heavy rain caused flooding and slips in Otago, Nelson, and the central North Island. A weather 'bomb' during 3-4 March caused heavy rain and extremely strong winds for the western and southern North Island, and Nelson. On 19 March, Northland was affected by widespread floodwaters due to a deep low stalling east of the Bay of Islands. This low moved south over the North Island on 20 March, all but isolating Gisborne by causing slips and tree-falls that blocked numerous roads. On 5 June, the northwest South Island was affected by record-breaking rain, associated with a rapidly deepening low over the Tasman Sea. On 16 July, flooding was widespread in many regions over the southern half of the North Island and the northern South Island. Westport was isolated, and numerous State Highways were closed due to slips and floodwaters. The Western Bay of Plenty and Coromandel were flooded in back-to-back events on 23 and 30 July. And several heavy rain events in the period to 1-15 August flooded parts of Marlborough, Canterbury, and north Otago. 

Download the full report (PDF 2.3 MB)

Download the updated statistics (PDF 619 KB)

For media comment, please contact:

Dr Andrew Tait Principal Climate Scientist - NIWA National Climate Centre, Wellington Tel. 04 386 0562 or Mobile 027 3277948

Dr Richard Turner Research Meteorologist - NIWA National Climate Centre, Wellington Tel. 04 386 0315 or Mobile 021 711092

For climate data, please contact:

Ms Petra Chappell Climate Analyst - NIWA National Climate Centre, Auckland Tel. 09 375 2052 

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