Country hunkers down as cold snap bites
A polar cold snap is continuing to dump snow around the country, leaving commuters battling with hazardous road conditions and lines companies in the far north scrambling to restore power to up to 500 homes that have had their electricity cut.
The icy weather was expected to continue overnight, and MetService was warning more places yet could receive a dusting of snow.
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In Wellington, snow and sleet continued to fall at the summit of Rimutaka, with about 10 to 15cm having built up.
While the road had opened this morning, police and contractors had closed it again and would run repairs while the snow fell.
Fulton Hogan contractors said about 20 cars were stranded on the hill at one stage when the road was closed.
The snowfalls were expected to spread, with MetService saying the city's hill suburbs could be in for snow this evening. Snow was expected in Karori, Northland, and Johnsonville tonight.
Further north, snow was lightly falling on Mt Ruapehu, customer relations manager Annah Dowset said. About 20cm had settled.
''It's a great pre-winter snowfall,'' she said. ''The locals are excited.''
Lines company Vector had confirmed up to 500 homes in Auckland and further north had been left without power, but they were hopeful most homes would have electricity restored by 7pm.
Much of Auckland's central western street lights and traffic lights were not working. Police were manning intersections, but gridlock could not be averted.
In Canterbury, blizzard-like conditions were being reported on Banks Peninsula as another wave of snow hit the region.
Christchurch residents had reported lunchtime snow flurries across the Port Hills, and as far out as Taylors Mistake.
A gale warning had been issued for the coast south of Christchurch to Moeraki, and warning the swell could reach four metres.
The coastline north of Christchurch had been issued with a storm warning, with violent seas and more four-metre swells.
Sleet and showers would continue throughout the day in Canterbury to near sea level.
"We are expecting there to be sleety showers about the coast today. Further inland it will be dry and very cold," MetService forecaster Liz Walsh said.
"It's not going to be exactly pleasant conditions - there will also be some late snow showers scattered through the Canterbury plains."
However, Canterbury was missing the wintry blast Otago and Southland would continue to be battered with today.
A gale force wind warning and severe thunderstorm watch had also been put in place for Auckland and Northland. Winds north of Auckland's harbour bridge were expected to reach speeds of up to 120kmh.
Linda Brasell and Chris Judd were fast asleep on the second floor of the large home, just two kilometres from Port Waikato village, when "all hell broke loose".
"It was just this enormous wind that seemed to be swirling above us, there was terrific noise and the whole house was shuddering," Brasell said.
Outside, the centre section of their roof was torn away landing in nearby Norfolk Pines, windows were smashed, their garage door caved in and anything not secured to the ground was tossed around the property and beyond.
"It was quite frightening," Brasell said of the storm which hit about 6am.
"I thought it went on for about five minutes but Chris said it was all over in about 60 seconds."
In the South Island, Dunedin City Council warned of widespread snow and treacherous conditions, and advised motorists to be extremely cautious.
Fire Service senior station officer Ben Pitelen said as much as 100mm of snow had fallen in the city's hill suburbs.
"All our hill appliances have got chains on," he said.
At sea level around 20-30mm of snow had fallen, mostly early this morning, Pitelen said.
The weather had closed many schools and kindergartens throughout the Otago region, the Otago Daily Times reported.
Some light snow showers were expected in the Queenstown area through this morning. Canterbury, however, had escaped the brunt of a polar blast moving up from the south.
Metservice forecaster Liz Walsh said temperatures plummeted to just 2 degrees Celsius at Christchurch Airport at about 6am.
However a scattering of snow was centred mainly on Banks Peninsula and areas around the Southern Alps, she said.
MetService data showed the temperature dropped to -1C in Alexandra early today and was not expected to climb above 3C.
Dunedin's expected maximum was 6c, while Christchurch was only expected to get to 4C, Wellington 8C, and Auckland 13C.
A severe weather watch was in place for areas around Taranaki and Whanganui, where squally thunderstorms were likely.
A thunderstorm moved through Wairarapa about 6pm last night with flashes of lightning visible in Wellington.
Some thunder and hail could be coming to the region and Hawke's Bay could get snow to 500m above sea level, with showers towards the coast.