Icy grip takes hold

Last updated 13:22 22/07/2014
ALEX LIU/stuff.co.nz

Snow has closed the Rimutaka Hill Road between Wellington and the Wairarapa.

Snow hilltops above Akaroa

Photos: land of the long white winter

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ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ Zoom
It's bleak out there: Road workers make their way up to the top of Rimutaka Hill Road.

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Wellington's Rimutaka Hill Road has reopened this afternoon, however snow is still falling in the ranges east of the city.


Have you awoken to a wintry scene? Send photos and info to us at newstips@stuff.co.nz


NZ Transport Agency closed the road this morning, with continuing snow falls keeping the stretch of State Highway 2, between Hutt Valley and Wairarapa, closed for the morning.

An NZTA spokesman said the road was opened again shortly after midday but warned it would still be icy.

He thanked drivers for their patience and contractors who had cleared the road.

''We know this has been a bit of a pain in the backside.''

Meanwhile, the State Highway 1 Desert Rd through the Central Plateau of the North Island opened again early this morning but still had wintry conditions, NZTA warned.

It had closed due to heavy snow last night.

MetService forecaster John Law said snow was still falling on the ranges to the east of Wellington, including the Rimutaka hill at midday, when the temperature was still to reach above freezing level.

Snow falls were expected to continue till about 2pm.

The snow was caused by a slow-moving area of Antarctic air travelling north over the country.

According to MetService figures, Wellington stayed well above freezing level overnight. Lower Hutt dropped to 4.1C, Kelburn to 5.3C, and Wellington Airport to 5.8C.

Elsewhere in the lower North Island though, temperatures dropped far lower.

Taupo dropped to -2.8C, Waiouru to -2.5C, New Plymouth to -0.5C, Palmerston North to -2.3C, Masterton to 0.6C, Levin to 2.8C, the Rimutaka summit to -0.8C, and the Desert Rd to -3.9C.

WAIKATO SHIVERS

The wintry blast left a thick dusting of snow on the peaks of the Kaimai Ranges in the Waikato this morning. 

Law said it was not uncommon for the snow to turn up on the mountain range by Te Aroha during the height of winter.

''You are looking at pretty high mountains, especially out to the northern edge.''

No road warnings were in place on SH29 over the Kaimais, as ice was not expected to affect the road. 

Temperatures dropped to 0.5 degrees Celsius in Hamilton city last night, and today's clear skies will mean another chilly night, says Law.

''Hamilton will have some cold frosty starts and it will become more showery toward Thursday and Friday.

''I don't think you get more snow, you are going to find most of the moisture goes down to the south. You have the cold temperatures but not really much rainfall, and you need both to have snow.''

A police spokesman said there were a couple of minor crashes this morning in the Taranaki area. Black ice was thought to be the cause.

South Island highways were open, but drivers should take extra care in the lower half of the island owing to snow and ice, NZTA said. Affected routes included State Highways 94, 85, 87, 1, 6, and 8.

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A few light snow showers were possible on Porters Pass today, while 2-4cm of snow could accumulate on the Milford Rd south of Lake Gunn.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council warned of a high risk of black ice on roads in the area. "Please drive with extreme care."

MORE SNOW EXPECTED

MetService this morning lifted warnings for heavy snow in coastal Canterbury, but said snow was expected above about 400 metres in eastern parts of the South Island and the lower and central North Island.

Heaviest falls were expected about Taihape and inland Whanganui, along with the hills of Wellington and in the south of Wairarapa.

"The snow in Wellington and Wairarapa is expected to ease this afternoon but snow at times is likely to continue at higher levels in Whanganui and Taihape into Wednesday morning," MetService said.

"Heavy snow in these regions is likely to cause major disruptions to traffic and make driving conditions hazardous, especially about higher mountain roads and passes.

"Strong southerlies along with the cold temperatures will make the wind feel bitterly cold. Farmers are  advised that stock may need shelter."

Temperatures throughout the country are expected to be chilly, with most places lucky to reach double figures.

Wellington and Christchurch would top just 8 degrees Celsius, while Dunedin would reach 6C and Alexandra 4C. 

The further north you go the better, with a drizzly Auckland on 14C or patchy fine spells and 13C in Tauranga.

Perhaps the places to be will be sunny Nelson, despite the chilly 11C temperature.

- Stuff

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