14 Apr 2015

Wintry blast across the country

3:03 pm on 14 April 2015

The early cold spell hitting much of the country is starting to ease in Otago and parts of Southland and Fiordland, and is expected to clear this afternoon.

An Antarctic front brought snow and gales to many parts of the country, with snow in Southland, and strong winds as far north as Kaitaia.

Snow has fallen to 800 metres on the Desert Road and the Tararua Ranges in Wairarapa, but further falls will become more isolated as the day goes on, and the road remains open.

MetService said hail was likely in some parts of the North Island, but rain and thunderstorms in the north and western regions will gradually ease off as the day goes on.

It also lifted a severe weather warning for Southland, Otago, and Fiordland, but one still remained for Banks Peninsula.

Roads around the Christchurch Port Hills have reopened this afternoon, after being closed by snow.

Contractors have cleared snow off the Summit Road and Dyers Pass Road which are now open.

Communications Meteorologist John Law said conditions were expected to improve as the day progresses, with showers expected in parts.

However, he said the region was still in for a cold night, which will lead to frosts.

In the South Island, snow fell overnight near Ashburton and Kaikoura.

Temperatures in Canterbury plummeted from 11 degrees to just 5 in the space of an hour, while in Dunedin, where snow is expected to low levels, people bundled up for the first real wintery spell of the year.

Student Jess Thomson in Dunedin said her flat was freezing.

It is so cold. The windows are frosting over. The hail, the rain, the freezing wind. The bloody electric blankets aren't working very well. It's just not phenomenal."

Meanwhile hazardous road conditions forced several bus services in Dunedin to be suspended with disruptions and delays to other services.

All other services are operating with delays.

Queenstown 'record'

Weather commentator for New Zealand Weather Now Richard Green said Queenstown's temperature of 4 degrees was a record low for April and snow flurries in Christchurch were rare for this time of the year.

But he said it did not mean a bitterly cold winter was on the way.

"To see Dunedin city is sitting on 5 degrees for much of the day, in fact we're really stretching the records back a long way. And also Queenstown, a maximum of 4 degrees, an April record for the lowest maximum as well. But here in Canterbury, I'm trying to recall the last time I've seen snow in Christchurch during April. It would be many, many years ago and a fleeting visit at that."

Queenstown airport in the snow.

Queenstown airport in the snow. Photo: Supplied / Queenstown Airport

Snow fell yesterday in Queenstown and Wanaka, temporarily closing the airport.

Simone Schenirer, who runs the Alpine Retreat bed and breakfast near Queenstown, said she'd been making the most of the cold weather.

"We've got lots of fir trees in the area; they are all covered in snow; all the native grasses are covered; it's just magical. There's been a lot of snowfall during the day, some small flakes and some really, really big ones. It's like a winter wonderland really, and we have some people coming to do some biking next weekend. I think they've seen that the weather is not meant to be great, so I think there'll be some pinot noir drinking instead."

The owner of the Cattle Flat Station near Wanaka, Geoffrey Young, said the bleak weather hit out of the blue.

"We're just in the middle of shearing ewes at the moment, so it's certainly most unwelcome. In fact, we put shearing off over the weekend because of the imminent weather bomb coming in, so we'll wait a day or two until the weather settles again hopefully. It certainly impacts on our workflow, we do need to keep the programme running, but you know you always have to make contingencies for this, so it's just something that we have to work through. "

Further east in Naseby locals were steering clear of the pub and staying in.

But the owner of the town's Royal Hotel, Jill Darbyshire, said that for out of town visitors, the snow's was a novelty.

Some of our in-house guests here from Auckland have never seen snow before, so they've been out walking in it, enjoying it, so they made a few snowmen on top of our table."

Early blast

Meanwhile rain, high winds and lightning storms brought down trees in Auckland overnight.

MetService duty forecaster Karl Loots said it was early for the season to get such a significantly cold weather system, though not unheard of.

The early wintery snap would subside over the next two days, he said.

"While Wednesday might still be a bit cool and slightly windy for a lot of places, Thursday looks a lot better.

"It's going to be fine for most of the country and a lot warmer."