28 May 2013

Cold snap brings snow, road closures, power cuts

11:36 pm on 28 May 2013

Heavy snow is continuing to cause disruption across New Zealand, closing state highways and cutting power.

MetService has issued heavy snow warnings in parts of the lower North Island. The warnings are in place in Taihape, inland Wanganui, south Wairarapa and the eastern hills in Wellington.

Heavy snow that fell over parts of Otago and Southland on Tuesday closed roads, disrupted air travel, shut schools in Dunedin and caused dozens of car crashes in the city.

Snow fell to sea level in Dunedin.

Snow fell to sea level in Dunedin. Photo: RNZ

A watch is in place for heavy snow in Christchurch and Banks Peninsula.

In Northland, a warning about severe gale southwesterlies is in place and a strong wind watch has been issued for Wellington.

In the North Island, two highways - the Desert Road (State Highway 1) between Rangipo and Waiouru and the Rimutaka Hill Road (SH 2) between Wellington and Wairarapa - are closed. Detours are available in the Central North Island via state highways 46, 47, 4 and 3.

Road crews will be working overnight to reopen the highways.

MetService forecaster Daniel Corbett says some of Wellington's hill suburbs are in for snow overnight and soft hail is expected down to sea level.

Waves closed the road between Eastbourne and the Hutt Valley for a couple of hours in the evening, because of the southerly gales combined with the high tide.

Power outages in Auckland

Hundreds of homes are without power west and north of Auckland on Tuesday night as rain and wind continue to batter the area.

About 300 properties in Wellsford, Helensville and Bethells Beach are affected.

Power cuts also hit hundreds of residents north of Auckland including those in the Rodney district, Mangawhai, Te Hana and Wellsford.

Lines company Vector says contractors have been working all day and will work through the night to restore power.

Auckland Council arborists have been called in to remove a large tree that crashed through the roof of a house in Pakuranga.

A crane was initially sent to the property.

The Fire Service says large wind gusts and heavy rain caused the tree to fall.

It says no-one was injured but the man who lives at the property was asked to leave because it's unsafe.

On Tuesday night light snow fell on the Waitakere Ranges in west Auckland

A Radio New Zealand Morning Report producer says about "an inch of snow" has settled at the top of the ranges, which are about 470 metres high.

Northland hit

The Far North and Kaipara have taken the brunt of the wild south-westerly weather, although MetService says the gales are expected to ease overnight.

In the Far North, nearly 300 households were without electricity. Gusts of 130km/h brought down trees and power lines from Doubtless Bay to Kaitaia in the morning and line repair crews worked since 7.30am.

Northpower network manager Steve McMillan says most customers should have had power back on by Tuesday evening if the storm abated as forecast.

The Fire Service says the roofs of two houses, one in Port Waikato and the other in Herekino in the Far North, have blown off. A crane was sent to a house in Pakuranga after a tree fell through its roof.

Ferry sailings cancelled

The 8.15am sailing of the ferry Kaitaki from Wellington to Picton and return sailing at 1.05pm were cancelled on Tuesday.

An Interislander spokesperson says the ship has an intermittent fault with its starboard steering gear and it would not have been prudent to sail when the weather was expected to worsen.

Also in Wellington, Tranz Metro cancelled a 6.30pm train from Johnsonville to the city due to slippery track conditions.

Snow woes in Dunedin

The first fall of the winter left about 10cm of snow on some of Dunedin's hill suburbs and at sea level on Tuesday, making many roads impassable and travel dangerous.

Sergeant Dave Scott says dozens of motorists crashed their cars and asked people not to drive unless necessary until conditions improved.

All schools in the city were closed for the day because of the heavy snow that fell to sea level.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) battled to keep the northern motorway open as snow and hail continued to fall throughout the day.

Otago-Southland operations manager Roger Bailey says it has been a difficult day for roading contractors because the weather has been changing every five minutes.

Mr Bailey says several cars were stuck early this morning on part of the southern motorway. Later in the morning, several trucks jack-knifed on the northern motorway and that had to close, trapping vehicles for more than five hours.

Sections of SH 1 reopened on Tuesday afternoon but will be closed again if the weather worsens, while SH 87 from Middlemarch to Outram is closed.

Dunedin children enjoyed a day off from school.

Dunedin children enjoyed a day off from school. Photo: RNZ

Dunedin Airport says flights were delayed to allow passengers more time to get to the airport.

Dunedin Hospital had to cancel outpatient clinics but about a dozen volunteers from a local four-wheel-drive club ferried doctors and nurses through to keep the rest of the hospital operating.

High country roads in Otago and Southland were closed and drivers were being urged to use chains in other areas.

SH 8 from Roxburgh to Alexandra and SH 94 from Te Anau to Milford Sound are closed. The snowfall also closed SH 6 from Kingston to Dipton, and the road through the Catlins near Owaka.

Snow has fallen on the Lewis, Arthur's, Lindis and Porters passes. NZTA is warning motorists to use chains on SH 73 from Arthur's Pass to Otira, which is closed to towing vehicles.

Snow has also fallen in Queenstown, where the airport has closed, and in Invercargill.

Flights into Queenstown were disrupted as snow closed the airport.

Flights into Queenstown were disrupted as snow closed the airport. Photo: RNZ

New Zealand Post cancelled all mail deliveries on Tuesday in Dunedin, Queenstown and Alexandra because of the risk to its posties' safety.

In Canterbury, Banks Peninsula roads were closed on Tuesday night. They are: Little Akaloa Road, Akaroa Summit Road from Little Akaloa to Okains Bay, and Okains Bay Road from Duvauchelle to Okains Bay. Other roads in the area are only open to four-wheel-drive vehicles with chains.

Peter McNab farms near Owaka in South Otago and says it was bitterly cold on Tuesday morning but the wintry weather will have less of an impact on animals than in calving or lambing season. However, he says it puts stress on the supply of feed which can have an impact later in the winter.