Guess what everyone? It’s snowing!

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod it’s SNOWING!!

My facebook newsfeed is doing a fine job of keeping me (as well as anyone who may be living under a rock) informed on the weather. I have so far counted approximately 60 snow-related statuses, and they just keep coming.

But why is snow such a novelty to New Zealanders?

Well, because we don’t see it very often.

Here in Dunedin, we live at a similar latitude to the Swiss Alps and the northern USA/southern Canada, where snow is just a normal part of life. Gosh, they’d laugh if they could see our pure joy at 5cm of slush.  But it’s a big event!

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Photo: J Goodwin

On continents during winter, the low sun and short days allow cold air to build up. Without the regulating effects of large bodies of water, or offshore prevailing winds, the continent gets really cold.

New Zealand doesn’t get these extreme continental seasons, because it is an island with an oceanic climate system. The ocean acts as a buffer, which regulates temperatures – making our winters cool, rather than cold (try telling that to my toes!), likewise, our summers are warm, but not hot.

Because the temperatures are not extreme, native plants and animals can stay active year round. Trees don’t lose their leaves, and animals don’t need to hibernate.

But this is a bit of an oversimplification – New Zealand’s climate is a complex beast. It is a long and skinny country, so the top of the North Island is subtropical, while the bottom of the South Island is temperate.

The Southern Alps, running down the spine of the South Island are an extreme alpine environment (Read: bloody cold in winter).

West of the Southern Alps is very wet, because the clouds need to drop their rain before they can blow east across the mountains. This makes the East Coast very dry – Canterbury is known for its maddening nor’west winds, which whip up dust and drive everyone crazy.

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For some reason, New Zealand winters feel just as cold as European winters. I have a theory on this, which I think is very scientifically sound:

European houses are centrally heated and well insulated. New Zealand houses are not!

And now this blog must come to an end. It’s a bit short, but I have to go skiing quickly before the snow melts!

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