Chasing Cyclone Gita

February 20, 2018

Cyclone Gita started out as “Tropical Disturbance 07F” near the Solomon Islands, before tracking towards Tonga and intensifying to a Cat 4. Gita was the strongest cyclone to strike Tonga in recorded history. Gita transitioned to strong ex-tropical cyclone as it tracked towards New Zealand. We headed to the West Coast of the South Island to chase this epic storm.

After agonising over weather model after weather model, I finally made a call that Cyclone Gita was going to intercept the West Coast of the South Island. I booked a last minute flight to Nelson and quickly packed up my gear before heading to Auckland Airport and down to Nelson. At Nelson Airport, I met up with another storm chaser friend – Matt. We collected the rental car and drove to Westport.

Live updates:

12.30pm: State Highway 6: Heavy rain is falling making driving very treacherous.

1.50pm: State Highway 6, near Westport. Rain is lighter, winds picking up.

2.40pm: At Cape Foulwind. Surf is huge. Some trees are down already.

2.45pm: Buller Bay on the beach. Heavy winds, sand devils. Hard to keep the camera on the tripod.

3.20pm: Back in Westport town. Winds getting even stronger

3.50pm: Near Orowaiti River. Wind is howling. House roof lifted, fences down.

4.50pm: Had to retreat to the car as flying debris is too hazardous. Civil Defence has issued an emergency warning alert to seek shelter immediately. We’ve taken shelter in a house near the Orowaiti River. Power is out.

5.45pm: Wind is crazzzy!

6.07pm: It’s gone ballistic! Debris flying around everywhere. Wind is deafening.  Powerlines down all over the street

7.30pm: Looks like its finally moving on. Winds are dying down now.


Whilst nowhere near the same intensity as it was when it impacted Tonga, Cyclone Gita still packed some serious strength as it bore down on Westport. It was certainly the strongest sustained winds I have ever experienced in New Zealand.