A Wellington sculpture has been blown up by lightning after a southerly change slammed the capital this afternoon.
The "needle" - a zephyrometer largely paid for by Meridian Energy and installed at Evans Bay in 2003 was struck by lightning about 2.30pm.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the sculpture, designed by artist Phil Price, was "completely stuffed" and there was a lot of debris that needed to be cleaned up.
The lightning strike had also affected traffic lights in the area and contractors had been sent to work on them while council staff and the fire service helped with traffic flow.
Kilbirnie resident Atom Emet's timing was bang-on when he decided to use his video camera to record a storm hitting the capital.
Emet noticed the "violent" change in the weather so hit record on his camera from his window and seconds later captured the needle sculpture being struck by lightning.
Emet cycles daily and can see the sculpture clearly from his home, which he uses to gauge the weather direction and how long it will take him to get to his destination.
"It's pretty useful for me so I'm a fan of it.''
Evans Bay Intermediate pupil Harriette Boucher was watching the hail outside with her classmates when she heard a "huge bang" and sparks started falling off the needle.
"When the sparks had cleared you could see it was all split and burnt down the sides.''
Harriette, 11, is a fan of the sculpture and hopes it gets repaired but seeing it get blown up had been quite scary.
Metservice meterologist Liz Walsh said forecasters had been waiting for the southerly change to strike and it did so with force.
"About 1pm we saw Kaikoura have a five degree drop in temperature and wind went from basically nothing - about 20kmh - to 89kmh almost instantly.''
She said that quickly made its way to the capital with temperature drops of 5C at the airport and 6C in Kelburn.
"It was a southerly buster that brought thunderstorms and hail.''
High winds toppled a tree onto powerlines, which then fell onto State Highway 2 between Masterton and Carterton.
Traffic is being diverted along side roads around the scene, in the Waingawa area, causing delays.
Masterton traffic sergeant Chris Megaw said the lines came down about 3.30pm in high winds. Powerco workers were trying to clear the road but he could not say how long it would take.
Meanwhile, snow was falling heavily on the Rimutaka summit this afternoon.
The cold weather has brought snow to the Desert Road, which has closed the state highway between Waiouru and Rangipo.
Walsh said tomorrow morning would be fine and a little bit of rain was expected in the afternoon - "but nothing like what we had today''.
By the weekend it would be back to fine and sunny for Wellington.
All East by West ferries have been cancelled to Days Bay and replaced by shuttles from Queens Wharf at 5.30pm and 6.30pm.
Interislander ferries were expected to have disruptions later this evening with forecasted 7m-high waves in the Cook Strait.
Interislander spokesman Michael Flyger said the Kaitaki ferry would depart at 8pm as scheduled, and radio the port to report on the situation.
"Based on that we will make a decision about whether Aratere will depart at 11.20pm.''
Wellington Airport remains open, but there have been some cancellations and delays.
Green MP Gareth Hughes was on an Air New Zealand plane that had to enter the southerly in order to land at Wellington airport this afternoon.
Hughes said he had been on worse flights but there was a lot of clapping from the passengers when they safely landed.
The flight captain had informed passengers they only had 15 minutes worth of fuel left before they would have to divert to Christchurch if they couldn't land.
"We flew right alongside the front for about ten minutes, which was pretty impressive, as we were surrounded in blue sky but we could see the cloud storms rolling in next to us.''
He said there was a series of water whirlpools, similar to water spouts, at the edge of the front and passengers braced themselves as the plane entered the storm to land.
- The Dominion Post