After dropping snow over the higher parts of the South Island, the North was now bearing the brunt of vicious Tasman low moving across the country.
Gales battered exposed parts of the Wellington area on Sunday evening with Mt Kaukau near Johnsonville getting consistent 100-plus kmh winds around 8pm.
Heavy snow warnings were in force for the Remutaka and Tararua ranges in the lower North Island overnight, and the Central North Island was also in line to cop freezing temperatures and snow.
Parts of Hawke’s Bay and the East Cape were predicted to be hit by high winds on Monday.
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Wellington Airport warned passengers to be ready for disruptions, though services were able to continue on Sunday evening despite high winds.
“Due to severe weather conditions forecast for Windy Wellington this evening through to tomorrow, there is the potential for our service to be disrupted,” a message to passengers read.
Cook Strait ferries were cancelled on Sunday, and Wellington’s Ohariu Valley experienced its second bout of flooding in just three weeks.
Snow closed Lewis and Porters passes in the South Island.
Roads likely to be affected by snow
The heaviest snow was expected in northern Canterbury and southern Marlborough, meaning travel could be disrupted, trees and power lines damaged, and live stock stressed.
Snow could fall as low as sea level between Seddon in Marlborough and Canterbury north of Christchurch.
The State Highway 1 Desert Rd and SH 2 Remutaka Hill Rd – both in the North Island – were in for up to 25 centimetres of snow and Taihape could have up to 30cm.
Eastern and southern Wairarapa, Wellington, and parts of Marlborough were in for southerly gusts up to 120kph.
Snow, avalanche and wave warnings
MetService meteorologist Ashlee Parkes said a recently-formed system over the Tasman Sea was causing the stormy blast.
A number of weather warnings have been issued by MetService, including a heavy snow warning for the Marlborough region south of Seddon, and Canterbury north of the Rakaia River.
Along the coast at Kaikōura, a strong wind watch has been issued where southerly winds may approach severe gale in exposed places.
The watch will come into effect on Sunday at 6pm and stay in place until 11am on Monday.
Elevated areas in the North Island were also forecast to get a dusting of snow.
Light snow flurries and sleet could possibly be seen in Christchurch and along Banks Peninsula.
Weather Watch is warning of potentially-damaging waves for Wellington and Wairarapa.
“Some waves may come over roads, especially in Wellington, bringing with it sand, driftwood and rocks. Wave heights are estimated to be between 4 and 6 metres with gale force southerlies gusting 120kph at sea level and potentially over 140kph higher up,” a Weather Watch warning said.
Parkes, from MetService, said because the weather system had only formed recently over the Tasman, the waves were expected to be less-powerful than some other wind events.
Even so, waves up to 4.5m were expected in Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, and Canterbury, while Wellington was due for waves up to 3m.
The snow has also prompted fresh avalanche warnings, according to the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC).
Avalanche Danger ratings have risen to ‘high’ for Aoraki/Mt Cook, Two Thumbs, Craigieburns, Nelson Lakes and Tongariro. Arthur’s Pass, Mt Hutt, Taranaki and Ohau have also moved to ‘considerable’ danger.
Ferries cancelled, ski fields close
Bluebridge confirmed its Cook Strait ferries had been cancelled on Sunday, and the Interislander confirmed high winds and forecast big swells meant its ferries were cancelled for the rest of Sunday and all day Monday. There was a chance of freight-only sailings on Monday.
A number of ski fields were closed on Sunday due to heavy snow leaving roads impassable. They included Mt Hutt, Porters Alpine Resort, Mt Dobson and Roundhill Ski in the South Island, and Tūroa at Mount Ruapehu on the North Island.
Heavy snowfall in parts of South Canterbury have led to closures on State Highway 8.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s website says as of midday on Sunday, SH 8 between Lake Takapō/Tekapo and Lake Pukaki is closed due to snow and ice conditions, while SH8 from Fairlie to Lake Takapō/Tekapo is closed to towing vehicles.
While the MetService confirmed on Sunday morning that snow had fallen in Tekapo and Fairlie, it did not have cumulative figures for just how much had fallen so far.
Snow has also been reported in Geraldine.
Meanwhile, all Fletcher Hill wanted for his 11th birthday was to see snow.
His wish came true on Sunday morning when he woke up on his birthday morning to snow on the ground, while staying in Fairlie.
“Mother Nature delivered,’’ Fletcher Hill’s mother Sarah Hill told Stuff on Sunday morning.
The family hoped to get back home to Timaru for a family dinner this evening.
The snow comes off the back of well above normal rainfall (greater than 149 per cent of normal) was observed over Canterbury High Country in July, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research (Niwa).
Roundhill Ski Area general manager Tim Douglass said, on Sunday morning, there was already snow “accumulating” on the fields, but he was looking forward to more coming.
“It’s actually been a really good season, we’ve got a good base already. But you never say no to more snow.”
Federated Farmers South Canterbury president Greg Anderson said it was “very much a wait and see” situation.
“Farmers would have good systems in place, but the snow won’t make things easy, particularly for dairy farmers going through calving at the moment,” Anderson said.
Fairlie Bakehouse co-owner Franz Lieber said there was a steady increase of snow just before midday on Sunday in Fairlie.
“We expect there could be more coming over the afternoon and evening,” he said.
Just weeks after devastating flooding on Takarau Gorge Rd, Sarah Apperley arrived home on Sunday to a sight of deja-vu.
Again, the road to her rural Wellington home west of Johnsonville was blocked by floodwaters. Again, the water was rising. And again it was a wait to see how much damage had been done.
Heavy rains dumped on Wellington on Sunday with 44mm of rain recorded in Wainuiomata from 8am to 2pm and 32mm in Kelburn in the same period. MetService was forecasting more heavy rain through Sunday with less rain – though still heavy at times – on Monday. Wellington City Council was notified of flooding around the city while big waves and strong wind forced Bluebridge and Interislander to cancel sailings.
It was July 17 when Ohariu Valley last flooded, causing extensive damage to the road and properties.
That time, the flood water reached the roof of Apperley’s stable and she suffered thousands of dollars of damage.
This time, around midday it was getting to the height of fences and rising, she said.
The water was too deep to drive the four-wheel-drive through so, while her husband waded home, she took the long way round via Karori.
“We are just about to experience it all again,” she said as the floodwaters continued to rise on Sunday.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said that, in just 30 minutes to 11.30am on Sunday, there were reports of flooding in Newtown, Oriental Pde, Hutt Rd, Churton Park, Island Bay, Hataitai, and Wadestown.
The council on Friday warned Wellingtonians to clear their drains and to be alert ahead of the forecast downpour.
“The ground around the region is already wet from the rain over the past few weeks so that usually means trees are more likely to topple in high winds and slips will come down,” chief infrastructure officer Mike Mendonca said.
“We’re advising motorists especially to take extra care on the roads on Sunday and Monday – you never know if there’ll be a tree or slip down round the corner on some of our twisty roads – so the advice is to keep speeds down and drive to the conditions.”
Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay
Gisborne District Council has issued heavy snow and strong wind watches for the inland Hawke’s Bay ranges and between Gisborne and Tologa Bay on the East Cape for Monday afternoon.