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Strong winds causing chaos in Christchurch and Queenstown

NZ Herald,
Lower South Island,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 23 January 2019, 8:12p.m.
Trees down on Speargrass Flat Road, near Queenstown. (Photo / Matt Pitt)
Trees down on Speargrass Flat Road, near Queenstown. (Photo / Matt Pitt)

Gusty winds are playing havoc in Christchurch and Queenstown, with reports of multiple trees down in the area.

Earlier today, a tree fell on top of a person in Rolleston Avenue in Central Christchurch.

It comes just a day after a tree toppled onto a group of people at Shotover Jet, injuring five.

Tonight, there have been more reports of trees being knocked down by the strong winds in Christchurch.

Winds have left about 3000 people in the Christchurch area without power tonight.

Lines company Orion is struggling to fix more than 20 separate power outages

The outages are affecting eastern suburbs in the city and smaller settlements to the west.

A Fire and Emergency New Zealand spokesman said there are multiple severe weather events across the Queenstown and Frankton area.

"We are advising people not to travel if they do not have to and be careful on the roads."

A police media spokeswoman said firefighters were responding to a call to Speargrass Flat Rd, where two large trees had reportedly come down and were blocking the road.

"They're two full trees with lots of branches,'' she said.

They were not near any power lines, she said.

The strong winds are also affecting flights in and out of Queenstown. Two flights, from Christchurch and Auckland, have been cancelled, while others are delayed.

Meanwhile, emergency services have been forced to close State Highway 73 Arthur's Pass due to a rockfall.

The road will remain closed between Arthur's Pass and Otira while contractors work to clear the road, NZ Transport Agency reports.

Queenstown Lakes District Council reported that Speargrass Flat Rd is closed between Hunter and Domain Rd, and will remain closed overnight.

"Our contractors have closed Speargrass Flat Rd between Hunter and Domain Rd for safety reasons. The road is currently blocked so residents needing to access the area may need to consider alternative arrangements for the time being. We'll keep you updated. Please be careful out there people," it said.

Glenorchy Rd is also closed at Bob's Cove until further notice due to fallen trees and powerlines.

A police spokeswoman said the driver who reported the fallen trees was unable to turn around, with a large number of cars backing up on the road.

Trees and power-lines are reportedly down on Arrowtown-Lake Hayes Rd, Hogans Gully Rd and Domain Rd.

A large fallen tree is also causing traffic delays on the corner of Church St and Marine Parade in the Queenstown CBD.

A car crash has been reported on Frankton Rd, with tow trucks on their way and one lane was reportedly blocked.

There are also reports of a tree down on Earnscleugh Rd, near Alexandra which will cause traffic delays. Earnscleugh Rd is closed between Chapman and Conroys Rd.

The windy conditions are making driving dangerous at the present, especially for high-sided vehicles and motorcycles.

Motorists are asked to take extra care while driving and be alert to the changing conditions.

MetService - 'Hindsight a wonderful thing'

MetService forecaster Andy Downes said Queenstown's strongest official wind gust was recorded at Queenstown Airport at 4.57pm as 105km/h. Winds at that time were averaging 80km/h. By 6pm the mean wind speed had dropped to 65km/h.

He said Metservice removed a strong wind watch for westerly winds in Central Otago this morning. It then focused on the forecast stronger southerly winds in a front heading for the east of the region.

"Unfortunately they have struck inland as well. Sometimes things happen like that. Hindsight is a wonderful thing."

That there were such sudden, strong winds was to do with the front moving in at the warmest time of the day, dropping temperatures dramatically in front of it - it was 19C in Queenstown at 4pm and 6C by 5.30pm - which caused the air pressure to rise rapidly contributing to a surge in the wind.

The relatively short-lived period of exceptionally strong winds hit Alexandra first, where the peak gust of 83km/h was measured at Alexandra Airport at 4.30pm, though other, more exposed places, were likely to have experienced stronger wind gusts.

The wind in Wanaka was averaging 57km/h and gusting at 76km/h at 6pm.

MetService was keeping an eye on North Otago and Canterbury this evening as the front moved north.

- Additional reporting ODT


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