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New Zealand Tornado Kills 3 in Auckland Area

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:24 PM GMT on December 07, 2012

New Zealand Tornado Kills 3 in Auckland Area

A strong EF-2 tornado swept through the Auckland, New Zealand suburb of Hobsonville on Thursday December 6th killing three and injuring at least seven. About 150 homes were damaged in the Hobsonville and Whenuapai Districts. Hours later a smaller tornado hit the hot springs resort of Rotorua 235 kilometers southeast of Auckland. It was the 2nd fatal tornado event in as many years for New Zealand.



Tornado damage in Hobsonville where three fatalities were reported during Thursday’s (December 6th) EF-2 twister. This was one of two of the most destructive and deadly tornado events in New Zealand modern history. Photo by Nigel Marple for Reuters.

This tornado event tied the Waikato District tornado of August 25, 1948 as New Zealand’s deadliest on record. New Zealand averages around 10 tornadoes a year (various sources claim as few as 7 on average to as many as 25 on average) with most occurrences affecting the North Island or western coast of the South Island. The vast majority of New Zealand tornadoes are weak in nature in the EF-0 category. They can occur at any time of the year, there is no real ‘tornado season’ in New Zealand.



This map shows tornado occurrence in New Zealand for the period of 1961-1975. Although this is short 15-year POR, the map illustrates that tornado formation is far more common on the North Island than the South Island. There 45 tornado reports on the South Island and 164 tornado reports on the North Island for a total of 209 reports nationwide--an average of 14 per year. Map from the book ‘Weather and Climate of New Zealand’ by Sturman and Tapper, Oxford Univ. Press, 1996.

Violent and deadly tornadoes are extremely rare in New Zealand, so it is a bit alarming that of the five known fatal tornado events in the past 100 years, two of them have happened in just the past two years. Here is a list of all the known fatal tornado events in New Zealand to date:

New Zealand’s Deadliest Twisters

December 6, 2012: 3 dead in Auckland area (Hobsonville). Seven injuries so far reported.

May 3, 2011: 1 dead in Auckland area (Albany). There were 14 injuries.

August 15, 2004: 2 dead in Taranaki, North Island. 2 injuries.

May 1991: 1 dead in Auckland area (Albany)

August 25, 1948: 3 dead in Waikato area (Frankton and Hamilton). This tornado was estimated to be of F-2 strength based on damage reports. There were 80 injuries.

Conclusion

It can be said with some certainty that Thursday's tornado was one of the two most intense such in modern New Zealand history.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Mini Blog Tornadoes

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

I thought being a citizen of New Zealand that I'd shed some light on this event and others like it. The increased tornado activity in Auckland has its progenitor in the ENSO pattern, namely La Nina. The vast majority of tornadoes in New Zealand go unreported as many that form on the west coast and it is sparsely populated.
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