A (near) perfect storm

Rain, rain, rain – and yet more rain.

Many South Islanders have just lived through not only their wettest July on record, but their wettest month ever. Even without the official statistics to prove that, most of us would have worked out the rain was persistent and heavy enough to be setting records.

Of course, thanks to Murphy’s Law and other such measures of universal awkwardness, the incredibly bad weather just had to coincide with the mid-winter school holidays and the worst period for serious sickness, thanks to Covid-19 and seasonal influenza, New Zealand has experienced for many decades.

It always used to be something of a joke — a bad joke at that — shared by exhausted parents that as soon as the school holidays came around, the weather would deteriorate rapidly, forcing their ceaselessly energetic little ones to stay inside day after day.

This July, very few will have considered it a joke. The combination of stormy weather and sickness, and the need to isolate at home, has played havoc with not only families eagerly anticipating a holiday but also with the people and companies who can make that dream come true.

As the pressure on workforces has ramped up due to enforced Covid-19 and flu absences, the services they can offer have been significantly affected. The repercussions of having larger than usual numbers of staff off sick have rippled throughout the whole infrastructure which keeps the country moving.

Earlier on in the Covid-19 pandemic one of the main fears, other than how it would affect the health of the nation, was about the security of the supply chain keeping supermarkets well stocked with food and other goods.

New Zealanders had, by then, seen worrying footage from Australia and elsewhere of empty supermarket shelves and ludicrous scrapping between customers over items whose scarcity would never have seemed likely to ignite such passion, including toilet rolls, flour and yeast.

Fortunately, through good planning and low levels of sickness, our major chains managed to keep a good supply of most wares in stock. Naturally though there were some exceptions and customers were asked to respect their fellow shoppers and adhere to limits of how many of certain commodities could be bought.

With the arrival of the Omicron variant late last year, and its inevitably rapid spread throughout our communities, keeping businesses going in the face of much staff sickness has been a real challenge for many. Plenty of shops and cafes have had to offer reduced services and put signs on their doors asking customers to be patient with overworked employees.

Last week, a raging southerly storm through Cook Strait and across Wellington exposed the fragilities of our transport network and highlighted how easily disruptions to it can affect the whole nation.

It wasn’t an extreme southerly by the standards of that very windy stretch of water — rather it was what might be expected once a year or so on average. However, the winds, combined with airline staff illness and heavy loadings due to school holiday travel, amounted to a near-perfect storm for Air New Zealand especially. About 200 flights had to be cancelled, stranding more than 100,000 people. It took several days for travellers to get to their intended destinations and for the airline’s schedule to return to normal.

It was clearly a situation beyond Air NZ’s control and bound to happen at some stage. Hopefully airline staff were as patient as they could be with frustrated passengers, refunds or credits have been processed without delay, and plans are in place to reduce the horrendous call centre wait some were forced to endure.

Of course, it’s not all bad news as we creep closer to August and spring bounds nearer. The evenings are lengthening and today in the South has about 15 minutes more daylight than last Saturday.

Another couple of weeks and the daffodils will be out.

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