Temperatures in the North Island have plunged to freezing overnight, with snow and crashes closing four state highways and motorists left with few travel options heading north.
The mercury got down to a bone-chilling -3.7C on the Desert Road and -2.4C in Waiouru in the night, according to MetService meteorologist Ngaire Wotherspoon.
Temperatures in rural Auckland were close to freezing, with Ardmore down to just 0.3C and Whenuapai at 1.1C at 7.30am - although the central city was closer to 6C.
Another 1 to 2cm of snow was expected to fall on the Desert Rd before 6am today, on top of the 12cm predicted yesterday. Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said the road remained closed between Rangipo and Waiouru due to the snow this morning.
State Highways 4 and 47 have also closed - a truck has rolled on SH47 National Park to Tūrangi, while SH4 Tohunga Junction to Manunui was closed since 3:30am due to a truck crash. Nobody was injured in the crashes, police said.
Two cars have also collided on State Highway 3 near Urenui this morning in what police have called a “serious crash”.
The incident occurred on the Onaero Bridge at about 6.40am, and there are currently no diversions in place.
”Motorists are advised to delay travel,” police said in a statement.
In Wellington, there was a brief snow closure on State Highway 2 Remutaka Hill last night from 10pm-11.20 pm, Waka Kotahi NZTA said.
“Winter driving conditions apply and we continue to urge drivers to take extra care on roads across the region this morning.”
Overnight snowfall on State Highway 2 Remutaka Hill in Wellington. Photo / Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency
A social media post from Urenui School warned of “very slippery” black ice on the bridge. Nearby New Plymouth reached -0.5C last night, which MetService’s Wotherspoon said was unusually cold for the area.
“They’re normally quite windy. Wind mixes up the atmosphere so stops those really cool, calm temperatures.”
Cold temperatures usually came from the ground cooling the atmosphere but in this case the chilly temperatures were caused by freezing southerly winds, Wotherspoon said.
Normally balmy Whitianga saw 0.5C, about 6C lower than usual for this time of year. Temperatures in Auckland were also close to freezing, with Ardmore getting down to 0.3C at 7.30am, while Whenuapai was down to 1.1C.
The coldest settlement in the country was St Arnaud in Nelson Lakes, with the tiny alpine village seeing -5C overnight, while Tekapo got down to -3.3C.
However Wotherspoon said temperatures in the South Island were quite normal for this time of year, whereas the North Island’s chill was unusual.
No stock losses expected thanks to ‘short storm’
Federated Farmers national board member Toby Williams told the Herald the only major concern they had in alpine regions such as central North Island in terms of snowfall and plummeting temperatures is if the snow hangs around for a number of days.
”Heavy snow fall covers all grass so stock have less opportunity to eat.
”If snow hangs around four to five days and it doesn’t melt, it is hard to feed animals but at this stage it looks like a short storm.”
Williams said in central North Island regions it was not uncommon to have snow each year.
”They are not lambing or calving so I don’t imagine any stock losses. It is just a matter of hunkering down and checking in on your stock, that they are fed and have water.”
Williams said farmers had been well-prepared ahead of time due to being proactive in keeping an eye on the forecast.
A MetService-issued heavy snow watch for Wairapapa was to end at 9am today, while watches for Taihape and Clutha, Southland and Fiordland lapsed by 9pm yesterday.
A heavy swell warning for Wairapapa, where waves were likely to reach 6 metres last night, was set to end at 11am today. Two road snowfall warnings, on the Desert and Remutaka Hill Rds, were also planned to end this morning.
Two strong wind watches remained this morning; one for coastal Marlborough, Wellington and Wairarapa south of Featherston which was slated to end at 9am, and one in the Chatham Islands, which lasts until 9am tomorrow.
Strong wind gusts and heavy snowfall impacted key highways yesterday, with lanes on Auckland’s Harbour Bridge opening and closing throughout the day and up to 12 cm of snow anticipated for Desert Rd. Photo / Michael Craig
In Auckland, isolated showers today were to end before dawn, MetService forecast, and the city was tipped for a high of 13C.
It marks a stark contrast to yesterday, when 14 weather watches and warnings were in place with the triple threat of snow, gales and thunderstorms lashing the country.
Winds reached speeds of up to 110km/h on Auckland’s harbour bridge around 5pm last night, while exposed easterly areas such as Lyttleton and Kaikoura were hit with gusts of around 100km/h overnight, according to Wotherspoon.
Flights were also diverted from Wellington Airport where overnight gusts were hitting 95km/h.
MetService said a ridge of high-pressure was forecast to push over the country from the west today, “heralding a more settled end to the week”, according to meteorologist David Miller.
In Wellington, where snow was expected to fall down to 400 metres in the morning, a high of 9C was forecast.
MetService recorded gusts up to 100km/h on the harbour bridge, while Waka Kotahi NZTA cautioned a full bridge closure “may [have been] required” during yesterday evening’s commute. Photo / Michael Craig
A showery day was forecast for Christchurch, along with showers also down to 400m, until turning to fine spells in the afternoon with a high of 10C.
In Dunedin, where snow flurries fell in the city centre yesterday, possibly heavy showers were forecast with more snow down to 200m and strong southeasterly gusts. A high of 8C was forecast.
Strong wind gusts and heavy snowfall impacted key highways yesterday, with lanes on Auckland’s Harbour Bridge opening and closing throughout the day and up to 12 cm of snow anticipated for Desert Rd.
MetService recorded gusts up to 100km/h on the harbour bridge, while Waka Kotahi NZTA cautioned a full bridge closure “may [have been] required” during yesterday evening’s commute.
Mayor Wayne Brown front-footed the wild weather, advising people to follow forecasts and drive to the conditions: “Take care out there over the next few days”.
Interislander cancelled four ferry sailings yesterday and one this morning, while the Remutaka Hill Rd, Lindis Pass, Crown Range and Milford Rds were expected to see up to 8cm of snow settle.
The Crown Range Rd was closed, along with the Milford Rd - where there was a risk of an avalanche near the Homer Tunnel.
Snow at Queenstown Airport caused flight delays. Photo / Supplied
MetService recorded thousands of lightning strikes around the country yesterday, with some 1866 strikes in the North Island and 2506 in the South and snow flurries have been recorded in central Dunedin.
Snowfall at Queenstown Airport delayed flights, forcing the crew to shovel snow in order to get the airport running again.
MetService said snow fell as low as 200m above sea level in some parts of the South Island.
Huge 6-metre waves were expected to pummel the coast from Wairarapa’s Cape Palliser to Mataikona overnight before easing below MetService’s warning criteria by midday today.
Hundreds of homes around the North Island, meanwhile, were left without power with electricity provider Powerco showing properties in the Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Manawatū and Wellington in the dark.
In the city of sails, meanwhile, a Ports of Auckland radio tower came down on Devonport’s Mt Victoria likely due to the wind, a port spokesperson said.
Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you