'Tis the season...to not get stranded
It's that time of year when swarms of Cantabrians take to our rivers and lakes for fishing, swimming, four-wheel driving, camping, and exploring.
But the time of year we lovingly call the 'silly season' is also when some silly summer weather patterns can catch people off guard and leave them stranded because of rising river levels.
After a record-breaking wet winter, we're seeing particularly high groundwater and river flows, so no matter what you're doing near our rivers this season, be aware of weather forecasts and, if in doubt, stay out of rivers this summer.
Nor-west weather means no-go for rivers
The strong, hot, dry wind of Canterbury's infamous nor-westers usually means heavy rain in the upper reaches of our alpine rivers such as Waiau Uwha, Hurunui, Waimakariri, Rakaia, Rangitata, Waitaki (and Waitaki Lakes), and Ahuriri.
This kind of rain has a significant impact on what's happening in our local waterways, Environment Canterbury Flood Controller Nick Griffith said.
"The northwest conditions that generate rain in the alpine parts of these large catchments catch many people out — they cause hot and sunny weather on the plains coupled with rapidly rising river levels and the potential for these waterways to flood with very little warning," Nick said.
The wide riverbeds and braided nature of these rivers also mean that river users can be enjoying a dry area of the riverbed without realising that braided flow channels that were dry, or that they had forded easily when travelling to their spot on the river, have now risen behind them, preventing them from safely exiting the riverbed later in the day.
Regional parks ranger has seen it all
From vehicles getting stranded to being washed completely downstream, Regional Park Field Ranger Quentin Garlick has seen it all working along the Waimakariri River, the region's most heavily used river for recreation purposes.
He recalled one day when three different vehicles got stuck. "It can be a perfectly sunny day and there's no water at all coming down the river when it floods," Quentin said.
"It can happen so quickly. The problem is that people aren't checking weather conditions in the mountains before they rock down to the river!"
He urged people to check our river flow data and flood warnings on our social media and to be on the lookout for orange Environment Canterbury flood warning signs when they're spending time at the river over summer.
When the wind is dry, drive on by!
If there is a nor-west blowing or even a small amount of flooding, Quentin's advice is simple — stay away!
"Sometimes we get several groups of people going onto riverbeds in flood. That's a dangerous idea — if it's a fast flood, there's no way you could get everyone off the riverbed before it all turns to chaos," he said.
"Cars can be washed right off the riverbed and putting yourself in flood waters puts others at risk who might be around and try to help."