Air NZ flights diverted twice due to poor weather: Director of Meteorology explains the weather

Dark clouds over the Niue Airport and flooded grounds over the weekend, pic taken at midday. PC Esther Pavihi BCN News

Unusually above-normal rainfall caused major disruptions to the travel plans of hundreds of passengers over the past few days with two consecutive flights diverted to Samoa due to bad weather.

Director of Niue Meteorology, Mrs Rossy Mitiepo explained that “Niue is still within the cyclone season 2022-2023, which coincides with the wet season of the year. The current La Niña conditions still affect Niue and it has been in the last three years. Therefore, expect to receive above-normal rainfall.

“The South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) general position is normally above Niue, but lately, it is below Niue. This is a line of convective clouds stretched towards the far west of the Pacific region that can cause unstable weather.”

Mitiepo said that “Last weekend from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th February 2023, a series of troughs of low-pressure systems passed over Niue. This caused stormy-like weather for Niue, associated with strong winds and high rainfall. The deep convective cloud bands were also large enough to cover Niue and caused low-level visibility.”

The Air NZ flight recovery flight for the passengers stranded due to the Auckland flooding arrived on Wednesday 1st of February but the large aircraft arrived with only 40 passengers. 

BCN News understands that passengers had rebooked to arrive on Friday but that flight was not able to land due to the weather and was diverted to Samoa. 

BCN News reached out to Air NZ for comment, in response they said “Where flights are disrupted by weather, Air New Zealand re-accommodates affected customers on the next available flight or provides alternative transport options.

Air New Zealand said that “Safety is our number one priority and in this instance, the aircraft was unable to land due to low visibility.”

More than 100 passengers due to depart Niue had to return to their homes and hotels with their luggage awaiting another recovery flight on Saturday but that too was diverted to Samoa for the second time due to the weather.

BCN news was told that an elderly passenger had to be transported to a hospital in Apia and later flew back to Auckland on a different flight. 

Air New Zealand said that “Passengers who opted not to travel were offered travel credit to use within the next 12 months.” 

Flooding in areas close to the airport, Fonuakula PIC Esther Pavihi BCN News

Rossy Mitiepo explained the role her office plays in providing weather reports for the airlines expected to arrive “As part of Niue Met Service essential service, duty officers on operation provided weather reports for aviation purposes on an hourly basis. Overcast, heavy rain, thunder, lightning and low visibility are critical and special weather conditions reported.

On board, this flight is a delegation of Niueans in Auckland travelling to Niue to bring a new pastor for his induction to the Ekalesia of Lakepa and a family who have travelled from Australia for a funeral. 

The passengers stranded in Niue include university students returning or starting their studies for the first time at universities in Fiji and New Zealand. 

The third recovery flight is expected to arrive in Niue from Auckland tomorrow and is due to arrive after midday, however, sources told BCN News that several of the passengers have decided to cancel their trip, some rebooking to a later flight in the week. 

The latest weather report received this morning at 8 am for Monday 6th February, a trough of low pressure with associated clouds and showers lies slow moving over the island with a further outlook to expect more cloudy weather with a few showers.

The flooded Lawn Bowls down the road from the airport. PC Esther Pavihi BCN News

According to the Niue Met Office, the rainfall count over the weekend was high with 278.1 millimetres but was still lower than the record set in February 2020 which was 594.7 millimetres.

Since 2020, the month of February has recorded more than 200 millimetres of rainfall.

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