Rugby world cup 2011: No chance of a 'white out'

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    Alex Deakin Alex Deakin | 11:30 AM, Friday, 9 September 2011

    Distance travelled ~ 646'826'400 km

    (Alex Deakin is a BBC weather forecaster and a keen sports fan. His previous post for 23 Degrees discussed the weather at the British Open. Here Alex explores how the weather will affect the start of the Rugby world cup in New Zealand, which kicked off earlier today)

    Although it snowed heavily only last month in New Zealand further dumps of the white stuff are not expected as Spring kicks in for the start of the Rugby World Cup

    webb ellis trophy

    Image courtesy of wikicommons

    Being surrounded by water New Zealand, like the UK, has a mild climate for its latitude. The Islands have some of the best skiing in the southern hemisphere so they get some snow but that's thanks to the huge mountains. Snow at low levels is rare. When it snowed in August in Christchurch it was described as a once in 30 year event, so it's about as rare as a New Zealand rugby world cup win!

    Another cold snap hit NZ at the start of Spring (Meteorologically speaking that's the start of September) when temperatures again dropped to freezing but now temperatures have climbed and this weekend looks fairly typical with some sunshine on Saturday and a more showery picture on Sunday. Temperatures look pretty average for the start of the tournament too, peaking in the mid to high teens.

    As the tournament gets underway rain and wind will be the major weather players. Like the UK New Zealand regularly gets flown over by areas of low pressure or depressions in Spring and Autumn, these bring spells of rain and strong winds.

    A strong wind will have an impact of the kicking game (penalties, conversions etc). The stadia play a big part here too with some designed to shelter the playing surface (some of the grounds being used have a roof) but other, older ones likely to create their own swirling winds and interesting micro-climates.

    Rugby players are well known to be a tough bunch and a bit of rain won't hurt, however a wet pitch and a slippery ball will have an impact. A wet game is usually a low scoring game, and with so many of the group games expected to be rather one sided this could be a bit of a leveller. i.e. a shock result is more likely if its raining.

    So the weather will have an impact on the rugby world cup, but if it's a typical Spring in New Zealand we shouldn't expect any snow. For updates on the weather for the games try metservice, here you can catch my old colleague Dan Corbett (yes that's where he's gone) giving video forecasts.

    Behind the scenes: river ice break up predictions

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    Stephen Marsh Stephen Marsh | 14:30 PM, Friday, 13 May 2011

    Alexandra falls hay river

    Kate Humble and the 23 Degrees team are back after filming the break up of the ice at Alexandra Falls in Hay River in the northern territories of Canada. This was a job for people with strong nerves and infinite patience.

    You see the problem with filming weather phenomena is that you never quite know when they are going to happen. It's true scientists can track weather events like storms with radar and satellites but even then, it can change direction at the last minute and you will miss it.

    It's the same with filming the ice break up. The scientists have been taking readings, comparing the ice build up with previous years, but this kind of prediction is not an exact science, so they can only narrow it down to a rough window that they think it will break up in. This year all was going to plan and they thought it would go in late April; we mobilized in the UK to head out, but then there were a few cold days so they had to start again with their predictions and we had to postpone our flights.

    At times it can be very frustrating, because the team have to work out when's the right time to go. If they head out too early, they'd be hanging around waiting and waiting, and would not be able to afford to stay long enough to get the collapse of the frozen waterfall. Head out too late and the break up could happen while they were 35,000 feet over the Atlantic.

    As it happens the team got it just right and arrived in good time with the scientists saying it would break up in the next few days of their arrival. Then it was a waiting game, a case of heading out to the frozen waterfall and listening for the first cracks. On our first day of filming not much happened and after ten hours of waiting they headed back to base praying it wouldn't happen overnight in the dark.

    23 Degrees production team and Kate Humble near the Hay river

    On the second day of filming after several hours of waiting and nothing happening, the Assistant Producer had to head off for another bit of important filming. 5 minutes after she left the falls started to break up. Two months of planning, days of waiting and she missed the lot. However the director had had his cameras trained on the falls and got the collapse in all its glory.

    Hay river ice break up

    So good planning, patience and a bit of luck resulted in us getting a tremendous sequence of the break up of the Alexander Falls.

    On the edge of the Arctic circle spring finally arrives [VIDEO UPDATE]

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    Kate Humble Kate Humble | 09:30 AM, Friday, 13 May 2011

    Day 134: 231 days remaining

    Last week Kate and the 23 Degrees production team were in Northern Canada filming the Hay River ice break up. Here's Kate's video blog whilst on location.


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    To read more on the team's trip in Northern Canada, read Series Producer Stephen Marsh's blog on the Arctic and ice break up.


    Unseasonal dry spring weather triggers wildfires in UK

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    Aira Idris Aira Idris | 12:00 PM, Friday, 6 May 2011

    Satellite image of fires in northern ireland and scotland

    Image © Jeff Schmaltz MODIS Land Rapid Response Team NASA

    d ~ 324'172'800 km: day 126

    Brush fire, bush fire, forest or wild fire - they all refer to the same phenomenon.

    In the past week wild fires have swept across parts of the West Highlands in Scotland. But even more recently the situation became more severe when Fife Fire and Rescue reported that a wildfire had broken out in the central belt, the most heavily populated region of Scotland located south of the Highlands.

    Wild fires have also ravaged other areas of the UK. Northern Ireland, northwest England and Berkshire have all been struck by these destructive fires. The natural causes of wildfires can range from lightning to volcanic eruptions to spontaneous combustion - but the recent wildfires in the UK may have been started deliberately by members of the public. However the warmest April since records began, leading to an unusually long period of dry conditions certainly played a key role in spreading the fires.

    With rainfall well below average in the past two months, the combination of "spring's longer daylight hours and really prolonged dry weather means that any moisture that has been left has evaporated quickly" says Matt Dobson at Meteogroup. This creates the prefect conditions for fires to take hold and strong southeast breeze fanning the flames helped spread the fires.

    Wild fires can occur in all parts of the world apart from Antarctica and are most common in spring and summer. In winter there are fewer long dry periods "evaporation rates are very low and you will remember that everywhere stays very damp after it has rained" says Matt Dobson at Meteogroup, so the fires don't spread.

    Fortunately a respite from the fires may be on the way. The next few days should see "an increase in rain and thunderstorm and hopefully an end to the current conditions". Which is good news for the fire-fighters and the forests.

    On the edge of the Arctic circle spring has us guessing

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    Stephen Marsh Stephen Marsh | 12:49 PM, Tuesday, 3 May 2011

    d ~ 316'454'400: day 123

    The 23 Degrees team are heading back out to Northern Canada on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The last time we were out there it was mid-winter and it was 35 degrees below zero. That's seriously cold. On that trip we were learning why Yellowknife was the coldest city in America, and why mid-January is the coldest period in the northern hemisphere. This time we are there to discover what happens when the Sun warming rays finally reach this northern territory.

    Frozen stream, northern territories

    For most of the northern hemisphere spring arrives gently, think of beautiful flowers blooming, blossom bursting, trees greening and animals starting to mate. But the 23 Degrees team are about to learn that up in the northern territories spring comes with a bang.

    We are travelling to the Hay River which flows towards the Great Slave Lake. During winter the Hay river is a major highway linking Yellowknife with the outside world. The frozen river becomes a three-lane highway for the ice road truckers to ship in supplies. But from April the days are getting longer and more and more solar energy is arriving, warming the ice. Now for most rivers this is not a big deal, the ice melts and the river flows. But not the Hay River because unusually it flows south to north, and that makes a big difference. Because of the planet's tilt the warming Sun's rays hit the headwaters of the river in the south first, while downstream in the north there's little sun so it stays really cold. This means that the upstream part of the river thaws first while the downstream section of the river stays frozen.

    Once the ice upstream melts and breaks up it starts to flow north towards the Great Slave Lake. When it gets there the great lumps of ice smash into the frozen lake - sometime creating huge pile-ups of ice. If these ice dams are big enough they can block off the flow of water, which then spreads into the surrounding tundra. That can be very bad news for the inhabitants of Hay River, the last time it happened the town was flooded.

    Kate Humble and the Team are going filming with scientists and local experts who are monitoring the break up of the ice in an attempt to see if there will be a flood. One indicator of how bad the ice break up is going to be is the Alexandra Falls. Right now the 35-metre waterfall is frozen solid but soon it's going to melt, with a serious crash.

    Hay river, northern territories

    In a brief moment hundreds of tonnes of ice will splinter and fall, and the whole waterfall will collapse. The incredible cascade of water and ice will only last for a short time but it signals the start of a tense period for the locals and the scientists. For the next few days they will closely monitor the ice break up to assess how much ice will hit the Slave Lake and how much flooding might occur.

    The 23 Degrees team will be there watching the break up and relaying back updates on this incredible spectacle.

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