Heavy snow warning issued

Desert Road closed for the night

CHRIS HYDE AND KATHRYN KING
Last updated 18:22 28/05/2013
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DESERT RD DUSTING: Snow fell on the Desert Rd near Lake Taupo in May. More is expected this week.

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SKIFIELD SNOW: Mt Ruapehu received a welcome 20cm on its upper slopes, just in time for ski season preparations.

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LATEST: The Desert Road has been closed due to heavy snowfall as Taihape braces itself for the worst of the cold front overnight.

A police communications spokesman confirmed that State Highway 1 was closed for the night to Rangipo, near Taupo.

SH1 north of Taihape was also closed as at 6.15pm.

State Highway 3 to Wanganui and SH4 to Taumaranui remained open but were experiencing heavy traffic, police said.

Extreme caution was advised for those travelling.

Light hail fell in Palmerston North this afternoon as the mercury limped to a high of 8 degrees Celsius.

The temperature is forecast to drop to 2C overnight, but the worst of the weather is behind Manawatu, MetService say.

Ten centimetres of snow fell at the base area of Mt Ruapehu and about 20cm fell on the upper slopes of the mountain, pleasing Turoa and Whakapapa skifields operations manager Chris Thrupp.

''Winter has well and truly landed and it's awesome to see.''

At Pukaha Mt Bruce, snow fell this morning, but not enough to stick on the ground.

Ranger Jessica Parisi said five "determined souls" had braved the roads and the temperatures to check out the eel bridge.

There were also reports of snow falling in Pongaroa and in the hills near Rangiwahia this afternoon.

HEAVY SNOW WARNINGS ISSUED

A heavy snow warning for Taihape and northern areas of Rangitikei has been issued by the MetService.

Snow fell on the Desert Rd near Lake Taupo overnight and police were warning motorists to reconsider non-essential travel through Rangitikei this afternoon and evening.

A crash as a direct result of the wintery conditions has put a 20-year-old Feilding man in hospital this morning.

A light dusting of snow fell on the Tararua and Ruahine Ranges overnight and more was forecast to fall to as low as 300 metres today. 

"The place we are really worried about is Taihape," MetService forecaster Liz Walsh said.

"We need people to know there is a heavy snow warning in place for them tonight."

The icy front making its way up the country would not bring snow to western areas of Manawatu. 

The showers that fell last night were all that should be expected, Walsh said.

"You guys are in a bit of a clearing, quite sheltered by the ranges from this one. 

"We are expecting showers to ease and to be honest they already have.

"It'll be a case of snow on the hills but fine below from now on." 

Cold westerlies winds were predicted to increase this afternoon but no warnings were in place, she said.

CAR SLIDES DOWN GULLY IN SLIPPERY CONDITIONS

Winter weather conditions played a part in both causing a crash and alerting the public to its existence this morning.

A 20-year-old Feilding man was taken to Palmerston North Hospital with a suspected concussion and minor head injuries after his car crashed down a bank off Sandon Rd, Feilding, about 7.40am.

Feilding Sergeant David Burmeister said the man was travelling downhill from Mt Biggs on Sandon Rd toward Feilding when his car ''fell off the road'' in slippery conditions, sliding down a 3m gully before coming to a stop under a tree.

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The car couldn't be seen from the road, and dozens of cars drove past while he sat there.

The man was only found because a farmer looking for stock heard his windscreen wipers going, Mr Burmeister said.

He found the man still in his car, feeling pretty confused, he said.

The man is believed to have been in his car for up to 20 minutes before he was found.

The man had to be helped to climb out the passenger door, because there was a risk the car could have fallen further and injured anyone trying to help him on the drivers side.

As winter approaches, the roads were getting slipperier, and drivers needed to be cautious, Mr Burmeister said.

''Coming into winter, we need people to drive to the conditions.

''If people don't drive to the conditions they will fall off the road.''

Highway patrol senior sergeant Kris Burbery said people contemplating driving in or through the hills around Taihape needed to keep up to date with the latest weather warnings. 

"If the roads are marginal or icy, consider if you really need to travel tonight," he said.

CONDITIONS IMPROVE ON DESERT ROAD - FOR NOW

Conditions on the Desert Road are improving, after a snow dumping of between 5 and 10cm since midnight.

Bevan Percival, of contracting firm Opus International Consultants, said crews would work today and tomorrow to keep the road open, with another 10cm of snow forecast overnight Tuesday and early Wednesday morning.

Low cloud was starting to lift on the Desert Road.

Staff were also working on sections of State Highway 5 between Taupo and Napier, Mr Percival said.

- Manawatu Standard

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