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Cyclone Gabrielle

~ Gabriella Rutherford-Carr | Planetary Accounting Specialist

The 15th of March marked one month since Cyclone Gabrielle hit the North Island, devastating so many communities. With disasters like this, it is easy (and normal), for those of us unaffected to forget or become complacent and move on with the daily business of life. However, for the people and families impacted by these events, the road to recovery is long. Many are still facing the very scary realities of this nightmare and will continue do so for a long time yet.

It is now, as others start moving on with their lives, that these communities need our aroha the most, so if you have the capacity to support - whether this means reaching out to those you know in the regions affected, or continuing to contribute food, clothing, money, or time, we encourage you to do so. If you are not sure how - we have included links to options for support at the end of this post.

The Writing on the wall

Cyclone Gabrielle has been marked as one the most significant cyclones to ever hit Aotearoa, but it is unlikely to remain seen as an outlying event. The 300-400mm of rain, and wind gusts of 130 to 140kph or more would previously have been considered a 1:100 event. The future could see events such as this every decade or more.

Gabrielle arrived after two years of COVID19 lockdowns and uncertainties, a significant rise in the cost of living, food shortages and fast on the heels of Auckland's extreme flooding just two weeks earlier. The compounding stress makes recovery all the more challenging, it is immensely concerning to realise this could become our 'new normal'.

A planetary perspective on Cyclone Gabrielle

Experts have noted that during this time, the region was in a La Niña phase, which is a weather pattern occurring in the Pacific Ocean. La Niña is caused by the tropical Pacific Ocean waters being cooler than normal. A process called the upwelling, which is when a strong eastward-moving trade winds and ocean currents which bring this cold water to the surface, is known to significantly drop the temperature of the sea surface.

La Niña is known to create a lower atmospheric pressure, which thereby increases rainfall and changes the global circulation of air and ocean currents, which affects the thermal energy on the earth's surface. This combo creates the perfect recipe for significant weather events such as Cyclone Gabrielle.

We also know that pushing the planet beyond its limits exacerbates events such as Cyclone Gabrielle. Most scientists believe there is also a causal link between climate change and Cyclone Gabrielle, and while studies to confirm this are still in very early stages, preliminary results suggest this is likely. However, it is interesting to note that there is much greater certainty that human impacts on other Planetary Boundaries – particularly land-use change – amplified Gabrielle’s impacts. This event serves as a major wakeup call that we cannot continue to push our environment to its limits. We must act urgently to return to the safe-operating-space of the Planetary Boundaries – considering not only carbon and greenhouse gas emissions but also biodiversity loss, land-use change, water consumption, and pollution – if we hope to mitigate the most severe impacts of future events.


Our hearts go out to the families and communities who have been impacted by the flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle. We are absolutely devastated by the number of people and animals that have lost their lives or felt the effects of this environmental disaster. But we are also so proud of all the communities coming together to show the true kiwi spirit and manaakitanga - to help one another and share the load. If you are looking for ways to support those affected by Cyclone Gabrielle – here are some links to get you started.

If you have time to offer, please visit these volunteering sites:

You can also join the Student Volunteer Army here:


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