Southerly blast heralds winter

Last updated 10:09 16/05/2012
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts

WINTER JOY: Snow at Mt Ruapehu, central North Island.

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A period of chilly weather covering the country heralds the rapid approach of winter.

The ski slopes of Mt Ruapehu were covered with snow yesterday after the first fall of the year, while at the bottom of the South Island snow has fallen to around 400 metres above sea level.

MetService forecaster Geoff Sanders said a cold southerly outbreak was expected to bring snow to 600 metres in the central North Island high country by tonight.

In contrast, in the lower South Island the snow line was expected to lift today, getting to around 1200 metres by tonight.

Around 7.30am it was 3degC in Queenstown with some light rain falling.

"That's bordering on snow," Sanders said.

Residents in the top half of the North Island would also be feeling colder, as strong southwesterly winds and showers swept across the area.

At Mt Ruapehu yesterday, ski area manager Steve McGill said preparations were under way for the ski season, which is due to open on June 16 at Turoa, and June 23 at Whakapapa.

"Winter is certainly upon us," he said.

Optimism is also high in the Southern Lakes for a better start to the ski season than last year when June temperatures were unseasonably warm.

NZSki chief executive James Coddington said the temperature was 4.9degC yesterday, with snow on the peaks around Queenstown.

MetService forecast heavy showers with hail and possible thunderstorms for the North Island as far south as Kapiti on the west and the Bay of Plenty to the east.

Heavy showers this afternoon and evening were expected between Gisborne and Wellington, with sleet about the top of the Rimutaka Hill this evening.

The outlook is much better for much of the South Island with fine weather expected for Nelson throughout the day, and in Canterbury showers becoming confined to the Kaikoura Coast and Banks Peninsula.

The New Zealand Transport Agency was urging drivers to be cautious on a section of state highway 6 south of Queenstown.

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- Manawatu Standard

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