17 Aug 2011

Polar blast eases but chill lingers

10:45 pm on 17 August 2011

As the bitter weather that has brought disruption to many parts of the country eases, MetService says cool southerly winds will linger until the weekend but there is the promise of warmer weather next week.

MetService says snow showers are easing throughout the country, with heavy snow warnings reduced to the higher areas of Canterbury, Marlborough, Taranaki and the Wairoa district.

MetService forecaster Chris Noble says a ridge bringing mild weather will stop rain on the east coast of both islands by the weekend.

Sunshine is expected during the weekend, but overnight temperatures will continue to be very cold as the skies will be clear.

Dunedin was set to get only a few more flurries of snow on Wednesday, but Christchurch might have to wait until early on Thursday to see the last snowfall. All main arterial roads have been cleared in Christchurch.


Fresh supplies of milk and bread, as well as fuel, finally reached Queenstown, which had been isolated due to heavy snow, on Wednesday morning after days without.

In the North Island, Wellington experienced rare heavy snowfalls for three days and is now being pelted by very cold gale-force southerly winds. The snow levels are lifting but chill rain is making it miserable in the capital.

Ferries cancelled, airports operating

Cook Strait ferry passenger crossings are scheduled to resume from 8am on Thursday, as rough conditions ease.

Passenger sailing were grounded on Wednesday because of 5m swells, with the Interislander operating its freight service only.

Several freight crossings were cancelled overnight because heavy sea swells made the voyage too dangerous.

Strait Shipping Limited expects to resume its freight crossings on Wednesday evening.

Queenstown, Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington airports are open and all flights are operating.


Road information

Ice closed the Desert Road (State Highway 1) again just before 8pm on Wednesday, after it was earlier closed for most of two days by snow and ice.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) says detours are available on State Highways 49, 4, 47 and 46.

The Rimutaka Hill Road (State Highway 2) connecting Wairarapa and Wellington reopened on Wednesday afternoon, with NZTA urging extreme caution by drivers.

Its Wellington operations manager Mark Owen says driving conditions remain challenging and motorists must exercise extreme care.

"We've been able to open the Rimutaka Hill Road earlier than initially expected thanks to easing weather conditions and a huge effort by our contractors." He says frosts will cover roads in the area this week.

State Highway 36 - Pyes Pass Road between Rotorua and Tauranga - has also reopened but NZTA advises care through the gorge because of black ice on the road.

In the South Island, two highways remain closed by snow: SH 87 Outram to Middlemarch and two sections of SH 73 - Arthurs Pass to Otira, and Springfield to Arthurs Pass (Porters Pass). The status of SH 87 will be updated at noon on Thursday and SH 73 at 9am.

NZTA advises caution on SH 85 Ranfurly to Omakau because of ice.

Caution is required because of snow on the following roads: SH 6 Cromwell to Queenstown, SH 8 the Lindis Pass from Omarama to Tarras (carry chains), and SH 80 Pukaki to Mt Cook (closed to towing vehicles and chains essential for all other vehicles).

The Automobile Association says its teams have had difficulties getting to their call-outs. However, road service national manager John Healy says motorists should still call it if they need help.