I arrived back in Auckland on Friday, having been out of the country for a few weeks on holiday, and what a day to arrive back in the middle of a storm. A storm that should raise a lot of questions given its impacts, particularly on our transport system. That’s because when it combined with a king tide it impacted a number of key roads around the city – and elsewhere.

The first sign of trouble was on Tamaki Dr where the causeway along Hobson Bay was inundated and almost indistinguishable from the harbour.

This is definitely not the first time Tamaki Dr has been closed due to flooding and it was announced back in September that Auckland Transport plan to raise the road by up to half a metre to prevent these issues – although perhaps that isn’t quite enough.

An hour later and it was the turn of the Northern Motorway just south of Esmonde Rd. Videos show the water covering all southbound lanes. You can also see from the image below that the busway lane is completely closed.

I haven’t heard of any plans from the NZTA to raise this section of motorway. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were hoping to tie it in to any works associated with another Harbour crossing. Equally it wouldn’t surprise me if some in the organisation tried to get another crossing pushed up the agenda.

It was then the turn of the Northwestern Motorway.

This one is the most surprising given that only within the last year have the NZTA finished spending hundreds of millions to raise the causeway to prevent exactly this from happening. They even listed preventing flooding as the primary reason for it – even though it was primarily being done to add more lanes due to building the Waterview tunnels. Here’s that they say on the project page.

What is the Causeway Upgrade Project?

The Causeway Upgrade Project is raising the motorway 1.5 metres to prevent flooding and widening it to provide additional capacity and bus shoulder lanes in both directions. The cycleway alongside the motorway is being raised, widened and upgraded, too.

I realise that Friday’s storm coming at the same time as a king tide might not be the norm, but surely it won’t be that unique over the coming 30-50 years. Surely such a newly upgraded piece of infrastructure shouldn’t have flooded already. Given they also forgot refused to build a busway that’s now acknowledged as being needed within a decade, you’d at least have thought they’d get the raising right. And how flooded would it have been if they hadn’t done it?

Finally roads weren’t the only transport infrastructure impacted. The new Half Moon Bay ferry terminal, that only opened in April last year, was also damaged in the storm and will be closed until further notice (at the time of writing this post). Like with the SH16 Causeway, was that it was damaged so soon in its life or was it just a freak incident that caused damage?


What this really highlights is how we need to build more resilience into our transport system. In many ways we’re lucky this happened when it did, while many people are still on leave so not affected. But next time may be different, and we know these types of events are only likely to continue. It has been estimated that up to 2,000 km of road around the country will be affected by climate change. That’s a lot of road raising that will be needed and it won’t be cheap.

Resilience comes in many forms too, both physically such as raising low lying roads to prevent inundation, but also in providing alternatives so that should something happen, this includes crashes/breakdowns etc, then not everyone is impacted.

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  1. Someone told me in respect of Half Moon Bay, it was the Sealink pier that was damaged, rather than the newly built commuter ferry pier. However, the latter was required to be closed in case parts of the damaged pier crashed into it.

    Can someone confirm if this is true?

  2. No disagreement with NZTA raising flood vulnerable highways, but to use that as a Trojan horse for supersizing their width with more general traffic lanes but no Rapid Transit system points to a major governance failure within the organisation and above it at ministerial level.

    The transport sector, because of structural autodependency is, with agriculture, the biggest source of climate change gases in the country. To be incentiving more driving and delaying and adding cost to meaningful alternatives on a major urban route long identified as needed a Rapid Transit service shows a blasé attitude to medium and long risk which is inexcusable. The fact that the newly raised highway has flooded already shows how urgent a complete change in direction is needed.

    Are they planning another metre or so now too, ad infititum, while still incentivising ever more driving?

  3. We are headed for some tough decisions regarding sea level rise and more frequent and damaging storms. WRT to the 2000 km of roads to be affected in the coming years, some of these may need to be raised to protect them (where this can be justified), but we just have to accept that others will be impassable some of the time. I don’t mean for this to sound harsh, but in many cases where people own property in low lying coastal areas this may need to be abandoned at private cost. Buyer beware. I am expecting the call for public compensation for private property losses to become louder as the years pass. It will be interesting to see what decisions get made.

    1. I believe there was quite a fuss from coastal property owners when councils tried to state the risk on the property LIM’s. With the media on the property owners’ side, I believe we’re now in a situation where councils gave up. Most properties, when they have to be abandoned, or worse, fixed at great expense before later being abandoned, will have nothing on the LIM and will be insured. Since insurance companies don’t want to lose the whole portfolio of the property owners, they keep the premiums way lower than the risk would suggest is fair.

      So the cost will be borne by people who pay insurance throughout the country, not just the owners of coastal low lying property. Please correct me if this is no longer the case – I’d love to hear things have changed.

      1. In a competitive market that wouldn’t happen – at least one insurance company would specialise in low risk low premium properties and take a big market share. Unfortunately our insurance market is anything but competitive.

      2. They recently raised all the flood level requirements for coastal properties, no problem if you house is above the new conservative levels.

      3. It baffles me the insurance companies invest so much on determining risk levels and yet are willing to make decisions on politically influenced council maps. I would have thought it would make more sense for insurance companies to maintain their own flood maps.

  4. Good to see AT were just being cautious with Half Moon Bay and, justifiably, awaiting an engineering ok to continue use.

  5. Most of the worlds cities are low lying and close to the sea. .eg Shanghai, New York, Mumbai, Miami, Amsterdam,, Jakata, Auckland. Thousands of km of concrete walls will not hold back up to a meter of saw level rise.
    We must all reduce our emissions and plant a billion trees.

    1. Yes we should. But it may be too late – deep ocean water is now warmer – only a small amount that is barely detectable but critical. I am pessimistic – hope I’m wrong and it is unlikely that I will live long enough to see it but by say 2050 there is a risk of sea level changes in metres not millimetres. I’ve been reading about climate warming ever since that article in New Scientist that worried about a new ice age (about 50 years).

      It is a complex subject but I strongly recommend “”NO PLACE TO HIDE – CLIMATE CHANGE, A SHORT INTRODUCTION FOR NEW ZEALANDERS”” by Jim Flynn. Fortunately a very short book under 90 pages and so clearly written it is just a couple of hours of your life to read every word. If you don’t have two hours read the last two paragraphs. I was stunned that anyone could distill such a complex subject into such a short book and lay out the argument so clearly. He gives you every opportunity to disagree. Surely Jim Flynn is a genius and definitely my Kiwi of the year (even if he is American).

      1. On the internet I found this quote which is precisely what I was thinking as I finished reading ‘No Place to Hide’: “”There is the sense of a colossal mental meat-grinder at work, sorting, analysing, rejecting, redefining.””

        1. Climate change is certainly happening, but at a much slower rate than all predictions so far. Not to say it wont accelerate, but on sea level change alone the numbers are approximately 1.6mm/year. Keeping in mind the ocean is not flat, some locations in Australia for instance this would be 3.5mm/year. The actual numbers are not known, these are all estimates on sat images or tide gauges which have their own error ratios, they are commonly believed to be conservative numbers as they should be.

          However it is also not confirmed how much exactly is associated with increased CO2 and other pollutants, compared to the earths natural global temperature cycle, only estimates and knowledge that we are not helping the situation.

          However how much do we want to spend on raising motorways is the question, engineered fill is not cheap, and nor are viaducts. To raise SH16 further would have cost a lot more money as this would have involved a lot more engineered fill, or building new concrete viaducts, and for 1 lane to be flooded during a super-moon event combined with a large storm I personal believe they got the cost to benefit ratio pretty spot on. As long as they solved the issue of this motorway alignment sinking as it did before.

          Personally I would rather this money spent on investing in our Rapid Transport System, than making motorways more efficient during an event which would occur possibly once a year, but likely much less often.

        2. It is worth while considering various alternatives – the 10mm solution and the 1m solution and the 5m solution. Maybe not too much thought about the 5m (although that is the one that would get my bet) because NZ will be more concerned about the 100m climate refugees.

        3. Even if the earth was undergoing it’s most extreme temperature increases due to natural causes, the current rate of warming would mean the majority is caused by human influences.

        4. “However it is also not confirmed how much exactly is associated with increased CO2 and other pollutants, compared to the earths natural global temperature cycle, only estimates and knowledge that we are not helping the situation.”

          This is so disingenuous. Scientists can’t tell you that it is 97.6654%. It’s not exact. Science is rarely exact like that. It works on confidence intervals. They can (for example) tell you that there is a 99% chance that at least 90% of current warming is human caused.

          There is no meaningful change in the implications of those two sentences. We should be doing everything in our power to combat climate change now.

    2. “What this really highlights is how we need to build more resilience into our transport system.”

      i am with JimR and see a completely different solution and that is too drastically reduce our carbon emissions and as difficult as some people might find it that could logically start with fossil fuel car usage.

      It’s not surprising that AT are planning to raise Tamaki Drive by 50cm when most predict that sea levels will rise by 70cm. AT invariably come to every party late and inevitably forget a bottle opener.

      1. The problem is that not all sea level rise can be attributed to CO2 emissions. Certainly we are not helping the situation, however the earth doesn’t have a stable temperature, it has cycles that are not consistent, so we may find that once we cut our emissions sea level rise may be 1.5mm/year instead of 3mm/year for example.

        Worthwhile doing but still need to build for rises to. But need to build smart, not go raising all motorways just because they might be flooded once a year.

    3. Auckland is not really a low lying city, we have a few isolated low areas however in general our city is quite high comparatively. Christchurch is much lower than Auckland for example.

  6. There is plenty of resilience as in all cases there were safe alternative routes and it would only have been idiots out on the roads in such a storm. One of the benefits of hills. Yes a few properties were flooded but hardly a major disaster. The causeway used to flood every king tide. Now it has minor flooding (1 lane of 5 closed) in a super king tide timed with a major storm. I think we can live with that.
    Or maybe we should build dykes then we really would be like Amsterdam (sorry couldn’t resist).

    1. It wasn’t really a big storm in Auckland there was no reason for people to be staying at home, I was at work along with many others on Thursday and Friday.

      1. Sorry. Agree people still needed to get from A to B – particularly if working. I was thinking of the people driving through flooded Tamaki Drive as idiots.

        1. Are drivers so thick and unaware that salt water and metal car bodies and components do not mix, whatsoever?

          I recall a few years ago dealing with a car written off after driving along Muriwai Beach in the sea water after components corroded, including things like the heater controls that seized up in a matter of weeks, along with everything under the car rotting out.

          Anything that drove through that flooding both on Tamaki Drive and the motorways will literally be rusting and corroding right now and will be a cot case in a year or so. That includes buses and Police cars!

        2. At least the buses and police cars get a jet wash after being in salt water. The average numpty doesn’t wash their car after driving through the sea.

        3. ‘Are drivers so thick and unaware that salt water and metal car bodies and components do not mix, whatsoever?’

          I’d imagine so.

  7. Just as a matter of interest, although the article says that king tides and storms are rare, in fact they are not, for two reasons:
    Firstly, you get larger tides during storm events because they have a low atmospheric pressure (hurricanes are an extreme example) so you get a “storm surge” i.e. a bulge in the sea level within the area of the storm and at its highest in the eye. This happens with any reasonably low pressure system (say below 985).
    Secondly, extreme storms seem to have a habit of occurring during events such as the “super moon” or other moon-related events such as eclipses which cause larger than normal tides. This means that there is probably some truth in Ken Ring’s theory that there are atmospheric tides and weather patterns affected by the moon, but because this doesn’t happen every time it is still not really an accepted hypothesis.
    However, it would be worth looking over historical data of when we have had intense storms and seeing just what the moon and tides were doing at the time. I suspect there would be rather more synergy than people expect.

    1. Is this the first reference to Ken Ring used as evidence in Greater Auckland/Transport Blog’s history!?

      Can you tell me the last time a storm hit during a king tide? There were four big storms that hit the top half of the North Island in March/April last year, none of them even hit during a spring tide, let alone a king tide.

      The guy is just a madman who trades on peoples distrust of science and officialdom to sell books.

      1. Ken is definitely eccentric and most of his ideas are wacky, but if you actually read my post it not only talks about king tides but also storm surges, which if you know anything at all about meteorology you will know happen every time a hurricane or severe storm hits. The position of the moon vs the sun absolutely affects tides and of course the moon is the cause of the tides, when you get an eclipse you are getting combined gravitational pull either diametrically opposite or aligned. Obviously this affects the size of the tide – perhaps you need to go back to school.

        1. I have a masters degree in meteorology, I’m well aware of the concept of storm surge. However, you put this specific comment in there which is a load of bollocks:

          ‘Secondly, extreme storms seem to have a habit of occurring during events such as the “super moon”’

          There is no evidence I have ever seen that storms are more likely to happen during a super moon. If a storm happens during a super moon, then of course the peak sea level will be higher than if it occurred at during a neap tide, but that doesn’t make the storms more likely.

        2. “But before scientists seek explanations for the connection they must make sure it’s real,”

          Your supporting link doesn’t support your point.

        3. Your link says that scientists don’t yet believe in the correlation that you claim all scientists believe. How on earth does that direct quote above do anything but disprove your argument?

        4. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/29530066/ns/us_news-environment/t/hurricane-strength-impacted-lunar-cycles/#.WlQN1VWWbRY

          Just an example. Also the Wahine disaster in April 1968 occurred within four days of a full moon in perigee.

          I’ll quote Ken Ring here because it’s factual information – you can interpret it any way you want but the facts are there:

          Perigees were about the equator from 1974 until the following year. On Xmas Eve 1974, Cyclone Tracy blew away Darwin. The moon was sitting on 12degN that day, and Darwin is sited at 12deg S. Between Feb 1988 and Nov 1989 the moon was averagely closer to the equator than to either northern or southern declination points, sitting at latitude 12deg30S when Cyclone Bola struck NZ on 7 March, 1988. Another example was the New Orleans Hurricane Katrina, on Aug 29, 2005. The moon was at 28degN that day. New Orleans is 29degN

          So it’s pretty easy to work back through the dates if you have the time/inclination.

        5. You have listed three storms that occurred during supermoons, what is your point? It doesn’t prove anything without analysis of a much larger sample of storms.

          Peter Yaukey’s work is a hypothesis of his that has never been peer-reviewed or published, even the article you linked to spends a significant proportion explaining how his work is not robust evidence.

          Also I can’t see anywhere in his evidence that suggests that storms are more likely to happen during super moons, he only talks about the influence of the full moon.

        6. He talks about the moon at its perigee is the point. I,e, when it’s closest to earth – those times it will appear larger (although not really to the naked eye).

        7. Er, look at the quote I posted there – that’s exactly what it says. Should’ve gone to Specsavers.. lol

        8. I’m guessing you are talking about Ken Ring whereas I was talking about Paul Yaukey, but neither of them have presented credible evidence that super moons and king tides increase the likelihood of storms.

          I find it really odd that you take pot shots at my qualifications and eyesight when you spent most of yesterday afternoon demonstrating that you don’t have a clue what scientific evidence is.

        9. I was referring to the Ken Ring article about perigees, you are correct. I do know that it took science a long time to accept a lot of theories that had been put forward by various individuals over the centuries (Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, and more recently even plate tectonics). There is statistical evidence that supports in part some of the things that Ken Ring and others of his ilk say, and the fact that so called scientists like yourself are so close-minded to them says more about you than about them. I bet you hate climate change deniers (as most of us do) and yet for your part you are like an early-stage one of those. Science should be open minded to new theories, not closed. I am not saying Ken Ring is 100% right but I don’t believe we should write off the moon influencing weather either, it seems a perfectly reasonable concept to me.
          Your last name isn’t Clarkson is it?

        10. Darwin etc worked very hard to gather robust evidence and eventually convince the science and wider community their theories were valid. Neither Ring nor Yaukey could be accused of this. Ring has just presented a series of facts without analysis, while Yaukey has taken a small subset of data when a much larger data set is readily available for analysis. I doubt Darwin would have just overlooked cyclones from pre-1950 and anywhere outside of the Atlantic.

          I’m open minded, however I think the chance the moon’s impact on cyclones is anything more than negligible is remote. This is simply because the variables that influence cyclones, such as sea temp, surface pressure and upper level winds are so complex. In addition to the cyclones often run over a period of two weeks, which meaning they will often have multiple parts of the lunar cycle happening, further reducing the chance one part of the cycle could have a serious influence.

          I’n not Clarkson, nor can I claim to be a scientist as I don’t work in the profession.

        11. A reasonable response – I am definitely not convinced that Ken Ring et al have nailed it completely either, but the point I was making in the first place was that regardless of supermoons or eclipses or anything else, the occurrences of inundation by seawater of Tamaki Drive and the two sections of motorway mentioned are not all that infrequent, to the point where those factors should be well and truly taken into account during the design phase.
          It might be conincidence or not that we got a big storm during a perigee moon phase, but the occurrences of flooding are much more frequent anyway.

    2. Unfair maligning of Ken Ring there – he is totally bonkers of course, but he is absolutely right about “Ken Ring’s theory that there are atmospheric tides and weather patterns affected by the moon” as all scientists know. The moon absolutely 100% affects the tides, all over the world, every single day, including the full moon and the super moon etc. None of that is in dispute.

      What IS in dispute of course is that those same lunar effects are causing earthquakes.

      1. “and weather patterns affected by the moon”

        Do you have any proof of this? I’ve read a lot on weather (the name explains why) and never seen that.

  8. Tamaki Drive needs to be raised and now because it is such a vital arterial route. This is becoming all too regular and cannot be blamed on freak storms. However given its expense and importance I think the NZTA should contribute with a heavy focus on alternatives to cars as well.

    But SH16. Dear oh dear, what an expensive failure. Where is the proud former Transport Ministers, Brownlee, Joyce and Bridges along with the beaming ex PM, English, fronting for a photo op now? Thing is, that had so much money poured into it, can we afford to keep spending hundreds of millions to patch up this expressway, again?

    1. If the decision is made to prevent flooding along SH16 and SH1 north of the harbour bridge the increased height doesn’t need to be over all of the traffic lanes. In the case of SH16 if a bi-driectional rapid transit way was built on the seaward side raised 2-3m above the current level forming a dyke and closeable gates installed at the bridges the flooding during storm events would be vastly reduced. A raised cycleway on SH1 and Tamaki Drive would also achieve the desired result on these.

      1. Or they could have built a bridge – would have made the lagoon on the other side much better from an environmental standpoint.

  9. Anyway, my whole point was that severe flooding of coastal areas like we saw last week due to high tides during storms is not uncommon at all, therefore we should be building our transport infrastructure to deal with it, along with rising sea levels. With climate change, these types of storms are apparently also more likely to occur.

    1. +1, that’s something we can agree on, which is well supported by science. Climate change will raise sea levels and increase the frequency and severity of major storms.

  10. Post excerpt from * Jan:
    “I realise that Friday’s storm coming at the same time as a king tide might not be the norm, but surely it won’t be that unique over the coming 30-50 years. ”

    Fast forward less than one month (1 Feb) – another super moon, and eclipse, king tides again and you guessed it, another storm that closes Tamaki Drive.
    Just sayin’…

    1. Haha, yes I had that thought too! We did of course have an equally significant wind and rain event on Thu 18th Jan when there wasn’t a king tide. It looks if anything as though we get a storm every two weeks on a Thursday at the moment.

  11. It also seems that Tamaki Drive is ridiculously vulnerable at the moment – I am really not sure raising it by 0.5m would eliminate the problem.

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