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The Wire: Extreme atmospheric river hits New Zealand

3:00 pm on 17 August 2022

Interview by Emilia Sullivan 

Listen to the full interview

A three-day-long atmospheric river has hit New Zealand today.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) says it could lead to "well over a month's worth of rain" this week, especially on the West Coast of the South Island.

Atmospheric rivers are huge, fast-flowing streams of moist air, stretching several thousands of kilometres in length, a few hundred kilometres wide and usually travelling faster than 45 kilometres per hour.

"When they hit another weather event or New Zealand's mountainous terrain, vast amounts of water vapour is squeezed out, falling as heavy rain or snow," says NIWA Meteorologist Tristan Meyers. 

Atmospheric rivers are common in New Zealand, and this rainfall is important for large areas of the South Island.

But they are also responsible for some of our worst flooding events. 

Meyers says we have not seen an atmospheric river of this magnitude since 1959, and that it is especially unusual at this time of year. 

Public interest journalism funded through NZ on Air.