Response in 'snow trap' lauded

While snow raking continues in parts of Canterbury to rescue stranded stock, farmers have been praised for being well prepared in the face of one of the biggest dumps for decades.

"Because of the weather forecasting and the prior warning of what was coming, these guys put in place everything they could possibly put in place," said North Canterbury Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Judy Meikle.

"They had dozers in the right place to open up their access and, if they didn't have a dozer, they had one organised to be there."

The worst-affected area in North Canterbury was on the Inland Rd between Kaikoura and Waiau where about 15 farms had stock trapped in the hills.

"It is a well-known bit of a snow trap so the farmers all seem to have a plan, they've got a lot more heavy machinery and tracks than 20 years ago in the '92 snow," support trust chairman Doug Archbold said. "They're much better organised and the other real saving grace is it's a very localised snow."

Weather forecasters feared the storms would be a repeat of the disastrous snow of 1992 but, while some areas were hit hard, much of Canterbury escaped the worst.

"Once the weather opened up, they've straight away not relied on outside help, they've had their strategies in place and they've got on with it. It's blown me away - the contrast from '92 to this one in that respect is incredible," Meikle said.

This storm pummelled some high country but left other parts relatively unscathed.

"The stations right out the back like Mesopotamia and Erewhon seem to be OK and Rakaia Gorge was OK," said Mid Canterbury Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Allan Baird. "But Ashburton Gorge back towards Mt Somers got hit really hard, Rangitata Gorge got a reasonable hit but in most cases manageable, and Clayton Valley in South Canterbury got hit really hard."

Baird says the rescue efforts continue on some of the hardest- hit properties.

"There are still people who have stock stranded on hills.

"We still have more to do at Ben McLeod [station] and we've got another place that we're putting together a couple of big teams for Friday and Saturday so there's still a bit going on but it is localised."

While farmers were well prepared, Baird said for some that wasn't enough.

"I think most people shifted most of their stock to snow-safe country when they got the warnings but the fact that it snowed three days on end and there was a lot more than anybody expected up there, made their snow-safe country inaccessible.

"The problem then was getting to the stock they'd brought down to feedable areas to actually feed them. When you get a metre of snow, you can't feed out with your four-wheel-drive tractors."

Baird has experienced big snows as far back as 1973 and believes using helicopters is key to successful stock rescue.

"It seems like a big cost but when you look at the amount of time you save and the amount you get achieved because of that, it's not. We got 1000 down yesterday whereas without the helicopter it would have been a couple of hundred. Otherwise, you spend so much time just walking there."

Archbold says the fact that the 2013 snow arrived in early winter instead of late August like the 1992 event also lessened its effects. "It's early in the gestation cycle so the ewes particularly are very resilient and fit and can stand these sort of conditions far better than closer to lambing."

The Press