Storms and extreme weather

In Aotearoa New Zealand we experience many kinds of weather related disasters - including storms cyclones, tornadoes, snowstorms, and king tides. These disasters have the potential to cause serious disruption, property damage, injuries, and even fatalities.

Being caught up in an extreme weather disaster can be a traumatic experience. Often people find that their normal daily life and work simply can't continue as usual. There can be a lot of changes to adapt to. It can be a time when families, whānau, friends, neighbours, businesses, and the community pull together to get through as best they possibly can. Gradually, one step at a time, your recovery will move forward.

The National Emergency Management Agency's Get Ready team advises that:

If life or property is at risk, immediately call 111 for emergency help
If phone lines are down or overloaded, look for help from neighbours and your local community.

Listen to your radio or television for advice on what to do
Visit the Civil Defence website for updates. 

Follow the directions of police or any other emergency service who request certain actions, such as evacuation.

Prioritise your safety - when a storm is forecast

  • Bring inside or tie down anything that strong winds could break or pick up. If you have a trampoline, turn it upside down to minimise the surface area exposed to wind.
  • Remove any debris or loose items from around your property. Branches and firewood can become missiles in strong winds.
  • Bring pets indoors. They can get unsettled by storms and it is more comforting and safer for them to be with you.
  • Check on your neighbours and anyone who might need your help.

Prioritise your safety - during the weather event

  • Stay inside. Don't walk around outside. Don't drive unless absolutely necessary.
  • Close exterior and interior doors and windows. Pull curtains and blinds over windows. This could prevent injury from flying glass if the window breaks.
  • Stay informed. Listen to the radio or follow your Civil Defence Emergency Management Group online. Follow the instructions of civil defence and emergency services.
  • Avoid bathtubs, water taps, and sinks. Metal pipes and plumbing can conduct electricity if struck by lightning. Use your water from your emergency supplies.
  • Unplug small appliances that may be affected by electrical power surges. If you lose power, unplug major appliances. This will reduce the power surge and possible damage when power is restored.

Helpful links

Get Ready storm information
Weather warnings and forecasts
State Highway conditions
Food safety in an emergency

See our flood information here.

The National Emergency Management Agency’s Get Ready team explains that tornadoes sometimes occur during thunderstorms in some parts of New Zealand. A tornado is a narrow, rotating column of air. It extends downwards to the ground from the base of a thunderstorm.

  • Know the warning signs for tornadoes:
    • A long, continuous roar or rumble, or
    • A fast approaching cloud of debris, which could be funnel shaped.
  • If you see a tornado funnel nearby, take shelter immediately. If you do not have a basement, move to an inside room with no windows or outside doors on the ground floor. Get under sturdy furniture and cover yourself with a mattress or blanket.
  • Alert others, if you can.
  • If caught outside, get away from trees if you can. Lie down flat in a nearby gully, ditch or low spot and protect your head.
  • If in a car, get out immediately and look for a safe place to shelter. Do not try to outrun a tornado or get under your vehicle for shelter.

The National Emergency Management Agency’s Get Ready team tells us that in a snowstorm, you could lose heat, power and telephone service. You may have a shortage of supplies if storm conditions continue for more than a day. 

  • If you live in a region at risk of snowstorms, make sure you have more than one form of power generation and heating. Check fuel supplies for wood burners, gas heaters, barbeques and generators.
  • Stay up to date with the latest weather information from MetService. Pay attention to heavy snow warnings and road snowfall warnings. Avoid leaving home unless absolutely necessary when a snow warning is issued.
  • If you have to travel make sure you are well prepared. Take snow chains, sleeping bags, warm clothing and essential emergency items.
  • If you are in your car or truck in a snowstorm, stay in your vehicle. Run the engine every ten minutes to keep warm. Drink fluids to avoid dehydration. Open the window a little to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Make yourself visible to rescuers. Tie a bright-coloured cloth to your radio aerial or door and keep the inside light on.

See the information on the Get Ready website here.

The government National Emergency Management Agency advises these steps on their Get Ready website.

  • Keep listening to the radio or following your Civil Defence Emergency Management Group online. They will give you information and instructions.
  • Check for injuries and get first aid if necessary.
  • Help others if you can, especially people who may need extra help.
  • Contact your local council if your house or building has been severely damaged. Ask your council for advice on how to clean up debris safely.
  • If your property is damaged:
    • Do not do anything that puts your safety at risk or causes more damage to your property.
    • Contact your insurance company as soon as possible.
    • If you rent your property, contact your landlord and your contents insurance company.
  • Take photos of any damage. It will help speed up assessments of your claims.
  • Stay alert for extended rainfall, flooding, landslides and debris hazards, especially when driving.

About weather event insurance

Storm insurance on the EQC website.

Use any disaster relief that is available
People who accept support from others and remain connected to their family, whānau, friends, and local community are in a better position to get through and rebuild their lives. Civil Defence helps people get through natural disasters. The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management coordinates Civil Defence nationally. Local Civil Defence is led by your city or district council. Check the Civil Defence website or your local council website for information about support available in your region for you and your family, whānau, and friends.

Give yourself time to recover
Physical, practical, financial, and emotional recovery will need a one-day-at-a-time approach at the start. See below for ways to cope with the impact of what’s happened.

Find ways to increase confidence in your future personal safety and security

  • Get prepared for any possible future extreme weather events. Organise emergency supplies, an emergency plan for your household, and pack some bags that you can ‘grab and go’, if needed. Go to the Civil Defence website for suggestions about how to do this.
  • Use the tips police suggest in their booklet Keep Safe, Feel Safe. Taking these actions can help to increase your confidence in your personal safety and security, and that of your family and whānau.

Everyone’s different and will react in their own ways

Emotionally it can be hard to believe it has happened. You may feel anxious about your situation and also worried about its impact on others. Common emotional reactions include shock, numbness, fear, ongoing anxiety, being easily startled, on alert for more threats, grief and sadness, anger, resentment, guilt (even when you had no control over the event), helplessness, and powerlessness. Some people can feel very disconnected for a time, not caring about anything or anyone. Others can become so focused on getting through the situation that emotional reactions can be delayed. It can be a very unpredictable time. It's common for people to feel overwhelmed at times.

Mentally you might have difficulty concentrating and be more forgetful. You may find it hard to think clearly and have difficulty making decisions. You may find you have disturbing images or memories that keep coming into your mind, or have ongoing nightmares or flashbacks (reliving what happened). You may also develop some other mental health challenges, such as acute anxiety, panic attacks, or depression. You could be more irritable than usual. You may try to avoid certain places or things that trigger difficult memories.  

Physically you might have a range of reactions, such as difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, body tensions and aches, shakiness, a tight chest, breathing problems, stomach and digestion problems, or headaches, or fatigue and exhaustion. Existing health conditions may worsen.

Socially you might want to be near other people more - or need more time on your own. For those experiencing increased anxiety, or having responsibility for others' wellbeing, staying near family and friends more may become especially important for a time.

Life can feel unfair, and you may find yourself thinking about some big life questions. It may be hard to make sense of what happened, especially if people close to you have been injured or died in the crisis. As you try to make sense of what’s happened, you may find yourself asking why questions, such as Why did this happen? People also often have lots of ‘if-only’ questions going round and round in their minds. Some people may blame themselves or others for not responding as they would have liked. The world you knew before can suddenly be turned upside down. It can feel more unsafe and uncertain. The future can suddenly look different.

Later on, certain sights, sounds, smells, sensations, or feelings can remind people of what happened. These can bring new waves of emotion and distress with them. Reminders could be, for example, an emergency vehicle speeding by, aftershocks, coverage of the crisis on the news, the smell of discarded rubbish, or photos of the house before the event. Some people can also find they have vivid ongoing dreams or nightmares, or they may experience distressing flashbacks to what happened, as if it’s happening to them all over again. See our info sheet on dealing with flashbacks.

These kinds of reactions are all normal after a traumatic experience.
However they might not feel normal, and they might affect you and others more, and for longer, than you expect. See tips below for coping with the impact of your reactions

If children or young people have been affected by what’s happened
See our information sheet for parents and caregivers about Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event.

If someone you love has died in the crisis, please also see our sudden death support information here.

Most people find that recovering from a traumatic event like this, one that can cause fear and also significant change and loss, takes some time - and more than most expect.

Looking after yourself is important
Eat healthy food. Drink enough water. Keep up routines and get good rest and sleep, as best you can. Do some simple exercise. Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend time with people you can relax with, or with a pet. Spend time in nature. If you find keeping busy helps, find useful tasks to do. See a doctor if you’re unwell, extremely anxious, or are having difficulty sleeping. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you may have. Accept caring offers from others if that would help. Use your inner resilience. Encourage others who have been affected to look after themselves too.

A flashback feels as though you’re back in the middle of your traumatic experience or reliving some aspect of it. This can be in vivid detail and during a flashback it can be difficult and confusing to connect back to the present and to what is real. To better understand flashbacks and ways to manage them, see our information sheet Dealing with Flashbacks.

Talk about what happened
When you’re ready, talk to someone you trust about what happened, such as a trusted family or whānau member, a close friend, your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, a respected elder, rangatira, or a Victim Support Worker. If any aspects of your story are particularly disturbing, speak to a professional about these things. Talking honestly about how things are can help release the stress and emotional tension inside.

More tips for coping with your reactions
To understand more about trauma and grief, and to learn ways to manage your reactions, please see:

Remember your reactions are normal responses to a traumatic event
Even though it may not feel like it now, they will gradually lessen in the weeks and months to come. If they don’t lessen or get worse and disrupt your daily life and work, it is best to seek the help of a professional who has experience supporting people after trauma.

Some people may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and need extra support to recover. If you have concerns, see your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, or ask a Victim Support Worker about help that is available to you.

If your reactions trouble you

If you have concerns, see your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, or ask a Support Worker about help that is available to you. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

  • Visit your doctor. They can do a health check and support you with any ongoing issues, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, flashbacks, or depression.
  • Consider talking with a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you work through your reactions and the impact the event has had.

  • Find a local doctor, counsellor, or psychologist here.

If children or young people have been affected by what’s happened
See our information sheet for parents and caregivers about Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event.

We are here for you 24/7
Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family, whānau, friends or community, for as long as you need us after being harmed or seriously disrupted by a natural disaster. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.  In times of disaster, our team of Support Workers will be on the ground providing support in the most affected communities.

What we can offer
Our Support Workers can support you with:

  • someone to listen, talk with, and support you to cope through trauma and loss
  • help to understand your rights and make informed choices
  • help to access local support services or counselling to suit your situation
  • practical support and assistance to deal with things like funeral and coronial processes
  • information and help to answer your questions
  • someone to assist and support you if you are dealing with investigations or other government agencies.

We are committed to providing quality support to strengthen the mana and well-being of all those affected by a storm or other extreme weather event.

If you have English as a second language
If you require support in your first language, Victim Support can use Ezispeak to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know. We will try to match you to a Support Worker who speaks your language.

Other useful information and websites


Coping with Trauma
Dealing with flashbacks
If you have discovered or witnessed a crime or traumatic incident
Using your resilience