Weather bomb forecast widened

05:56, Mar 02 2012

Cook Strait ferry sailings have been cancelled and Ironman New Zealand postponed after the MetService widened its warning for a "weather bomb" that is expected to lash the country tomorrow.

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It said this morning that heavy rain and gales were expected over most of the North Island and the top of the South Island.

Interislander acting general manager Ross Allen said sailings would stop after the 6.25pm sailing from Wellington to Picton tonight.

"The safety of our passengers is our first priority and with both the Met Service and Civil Defence issuing warnings about the weather it is simply too risky to continue sailing."

He said staff were working to contact affected customers and move them to alternative sailings outside the weather warning period.

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The front is expected to ease by nightfall tomorrow and Allen said he hoped to have the ferries sailing again by Sunday morning, weather permitting.

The forecast has also forced the Ironman New Zealand race in Taupo to be postponed and thrown into doubt the Black Caps' one-day match against South Africa tomorrow.

Meanwhile salvors working on the wreck of the cargo ship Rena, grounded on a reef off the Bay of Plenty, have sent  their boats back to port. North Island residents have also been warned there is a risk of power cuts.

A low is expected to "deepen rapidly" as it crosses the Tasman Sea today and should be intense as it crosses the North Island tomorrow.

A "weather bomb" involves a rapid decrease in air pressure, which usually produces high winds and heavy rain.

MetService said the most likely track of the storm's centre was from Taranaki to Hawke's Bay tomorrow morning with the front's pressure falling to near 970hPa.

Heavy rain was expected in the ranges from Mt Taranaki to Mt Ruapehu, the ranges of eastern Bay of Plenty and Gisborne, Wellington, Wairarapa and the Kaikoura Ranges. Streams and rivers would rise quickly.

Severe gales were forecast for Taranaki and Waikato across to the Bay of Plenty and down to Wellington as well as Buller, Nelson and Marlborough. The wind had the potential to be damaging.

Rough seas and heavy swells could cause erosion and storm surges in coastal areas.

Conditions should ease later tomorrow as the low moved away to the east.

MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said the low would arrive tonight, and tomorrow morning would bring the worst weather.

While forecasters still had to see the whites of the storm's eyes, winds could reach 120kmh and sea swells of six to eight metres were expected, he said.

The MetService suggested people stay inside for the day - after checking boat moorings and other potential risks around their property.

MetService spokesman Geoff Sanders said the weather could make life difficult for motorists.

"I wouldn't like to ride a motorcycle over the Auckland Harbour Bridge tomorrow."

Vector, which owns and operates the electricity distribution network in the greater Auckland region, was warning customers to prepare to lose power during the stormy weather.

Chief executive Simon Mackenzie said Vector's field crews were on alert to deal with any power cuts and would respond as soon as possible. The company was "well aware" of the frustrations cuts caused.

Vector advised people to check all windows and doors, including those in sheds, are closed and to secure garden furniture. People should keep a torch and spare batteries handy, and have a phone that doesn't rely on electricity.

In addition, those using medical equipment that relied on electricity should be prepared for power disruptions and if there is an immediate health threat, contact their health provider or call 111.

Powerco, which runs electricity networks in much of the central and lower North Island, said it had advised contractors around the North Island to rest their staff in preparation for tomorrow. All available field staff were on standby.

"With winds of between 120 and 150 km/h forecast, this event is likely to cause power cuts across the network and our focus will be to safely restore supply to customers as soon as possible," Powerco network operations manager Phil Marsh said.

Among precautions that could be taken, people should make sure trampolines were securely fixed to the ground. In previous severe weather, wind-blown trampolines had caused power cuts

In Auckland, racing's glamour event, Cup Week, kicked off at Ellerslie with Derby Day featuring Kiwi pop star Kimbra, while a one-day cricket match between the Black Caps and South Africa was set for Eden Park.

Walk-up crowds for both events were expected to be affected by the weather. There was no rain day set aside for the cricket, with the Warriors due to play at Eden Park the next day. Raceday organisers said they had plenty of shelter for crowds at the event.

The 28th Ironman New Zealand in Taupo tomorrow has been cancelled, to be replaced by a half-distance Ironman on Sunday.

“If we proceeded based on the weather information we have received, then we would be putting at serious risk the health and welfare of the athletes, our 2000 volunteers and the public. Accordingly we have agreed to postpone the event on Saturday,” said Event Director, Jane Patterson.

In the Bay of Plenty salvage company Svitzer had pulled the crane barge Smit Borneo and support vessels away from the Rena and moved them back to port.

Maritime New Zealand said winds of up to 50 knots were forecast for the area tomorrow, along with sea swells of over five metres.

Salvors had also removed some equipment and scaffolding from the bow section of the Rena, to ensure it was not damaged or washed overboard in the heavy seas.

The tug Go Canopus would remain at the wreck site over the weekend to monitor the two sections of the Rena for any significant movement or changes in position on the reef.

Auckland Now