Wintry blast fizzles out
The Desert Road has re-opened as a cold snap passes over - but chilly conditions mean ice and snow continues to make driving hazardous.
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The Desert Road had been closed overnight because of snow.
Police this afternoon warned motorists that care was still needed and drivers were warned to drive to the conditions.
State Highway 47, through the North Island's central plateau, had also re-opened.
Ice posed a serious risk along SH4 Ohakune/Taumaranui and beyond, police advised.
In the South Island ice had been reported on State Highway 97 Mossburn, Five Rivers Road, SH6 Athol To Lumsden, and SH8 the Lindis Pass.
Chains were required on SH94 between Te Anau and Milford Sound, while motorists were urged to take extra care due to snow on SH90 Raes Junction to McNab.
COLD SNAP MOVES OFF
A severe weather watch has been lifted for heavy snow accumulating above 400 metres over southern Fiordland, Southland, Otago and Banks Peninsula, MetService said.
Thunderstorms and hail hit Auckland, the Coromandel and Taranaki this morning but are clearing, MetService said.
Some heavy showers might still affect Auckland and Northland later this evening.
By tomorrow, there would be only occasional showers in the northern and southern parts of the country.
It will be slightly warmer than today, as the bitterly cold southwest flow starts to come more from the west.
There is a potential that the westerlies could reach severe gale strength in exposed areas of Southland and Clutha by Friday night, MetService said.
There might also be more snow down to 400m in Southland on Friday night and into Saturday morning.
South Auckland residents had a narrow escape last night after a series of lightning strikes left walls damaged, windows shattered and a bed burnt.
Papakura resident Josh Roa and his wife were sleeping when their bed caught fire as a lightning bolt went through their telephone line up to the bedroom modem.
"My wife smelt the burning and said 'the bed is on fire'," he said.
"Forty 40 seconds later the smoke alarm went off."
Roa used water from the laundry tub to fight the fire until emergency services arrived.
Next door, 10 minutes after Carletta Bongard got out of the shower, lightning hit her house, smashing several windows and severely damaging the bathroom, causing the shower to cave in.
"I keep thinking about what could have happened if I hadn't got out 10 minutes earlier," she said.
"I shouldn't but it is hard. It was a shock."
Roa said electrical crews are working to bring power back to the houses but is unsure when that would be.
"But right now we are really just focusing on our three little girls," he said.
"Tonight they are getting a full fire drill training."
The Fire Service said lightning strikes hit Pukekohe and Papakura about 10.30pm, knocking out power to several homes.
RELIEF FOR SKI FIELDS
Operators of many of New Zealand's ski fields would be rubbing their hands with glee at the snowfall.
Flurries of fresh snow settled briefly in downtown Queenstown, Frankton and Arthurs Pt while around the region, skifields were enjoying solid snowfall after a dire start to the season.
Up to 20cm accumulated on the skifields.
The Remarkables, with a multimillion-dollar terrain expansion and new Curvey Basin chairlift, opens today. Ski area manager Ross Lawrence said 10cm of fresh snow had accumulated by the yesterday afternoon. All areas, with the exception of Shadow Basin, were expected to open.
"We're certainly pretty excited," he said.
"[On] Friday there's some more snow coming in and it's very cold so there's lots of snowmaking. On the first chair the bubbles will be out for sure.
"We'll be celebrating getting up and running, it's up to the public now to come on up, take it in and enjoy."
Last month, southern ski fields, with the exception of Coronet Peak, delayed scheduled openings due to a lack of snow but with school holidays rapidly approaching, the dump spells relief.
Mt Ruapehu ski field operators said on their website, 25cm of snow had fallen in 24 hours in the base area of Turoa and 20cm in the base area Whakapapa, in the central North Island.
This enabled the operators to open Turoa today, with a total snow base of 85cm.
Whakapapa is expected to open on Saturday and has a snow base of 80cm.